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UK Royal Navy locks in contract for crewless submarine

The United Kingdom’s Royal Navy has awarded a £15.4 million contract to Plymouth firm MSubs for the delivery of a Project Cetus crewless submarine.

The United Kingdom’s Royal Navy has awarded a £15.4 million contract to Plymouth firm MSubs for the delivery of a Project Cetus crewless submarine.

The Ministry of Defence and Submarine Delivery Agency announced funding for the modular payload submarine to be delivered to the Navy in two years’ time and enhance the Royal Navy’s experimentation with autonomous underwater systems.

The 12-metre-long, 2.2-metre diameter, and 17-tonne battery-powered Cetus is expected to be able to cover 1,000 miles in a single mission, achieve a maximum operational depth exceeding the current submarine fleet, and become the largest and most complex crewless submersible operated by a European navy.


“In order to meet the growing threats to our underwater infrastructure, the Royal Navy needs to be ahead of the competition with cutting-edge capabilities,” said Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

“Project Cetus, alongside bringing forward the MROS ships, will help ensure we have the right equipment to protect the security of the UK and our allies.

“Having the skills base and specialist knowledge to develop and build this vessel in the UK is testament to the UK’s leading reputation in building surface and sub-surface ships.”

Unarmed and shipping container-transportable Cetus is designed to operate with all of the ships from the Royal Navy fleet and allies, as well as work independently or side by side with crewed submarines such as the Astute Class submarines and their successors.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key said Cetus will be a platform for the Royal Navy on which to experiment and build cutting-edge technologies and capabilities around, encouraging innovation and developing best practice.

“This is a hugely exciting moment for Project Cetus as the Royal Navy surges ahead with the development of autonomous technology,” Sir Key said.

“This extra-large autonomous underwater vehicle is a capability step-change in our mission to dominate the underwater battlespace.

“I am delighted that the project is able to support a small, innovative UK company which is at the cutting edge of this sector.”

The contract is funded by the Anti-Submarine Warfare Spearhead program run by the Royal Navy’s Develop Directorate in Portsmouth. The vessel will be delivered through the Submarine Delivery Agency in Bristol.

The contract is expected to create 10 specialist jobs and support 70 specialist jobs in Plymouth.

The UK has previously fielded crewless mine-hunting systems in Scotland, aerial drones for reconnaissance, and driverless Pacific 24 sea boats are currently undergoing testing.

“The faith the Royal Navy has shown in our small business is humbling and we look forward to working closely together in the future, as we have in the recent past, to develop and deploy Cetus, in the national interest,” said MSubs chief executive officer Brett Phaneuf.

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