The U.S. Navy is actively integrating medium unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) into its fleet, enhancing its capabilities for anti-cable operations and safeguarding the vital undersea cables that crisscross the globe. Spearheaded by the Program Executive Office Unmanned and Small Combatants, the initiative aims to develop a versatile drone platform suitable for both mine countermeasures and covert submarine operations.
As the program progresses through critical design reviews, industry leaders such as Leidos and L3Harris Technologies have invested in creating demonstration vehicles to expedite the project. The envisioned medium UUV will be deployable via torpedo tubes, transforming any submarine into a drone-hosting vessel within the next few years. Notably, the Navy is already piloting comparable industry systems, learning their operational use in real-world scenarios.
Rear Adm. Rob Gaucher, a special assistant to U.S. Fleet Forces Command, disclosed that successful tests like Yellow Moray and Rat Trap have already been conducted, with plans to deploy these technologies fleet-wide by 2024. In the meantime, UUVs have played critical roles in international exercises and operational tasks, including the surveillance of the Nord Stream pipeline and various maritime security missions in the Middle East and Pacific regions. This advancement heralds a new chapter in undersea warfare, where UUVs stand as silent guardians of the ocean’s hidden highways, crucial for global communication and data transfer.
Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) can play a vital role in the protection of underwater cables primarily through surveillance, inspection, and rapid response to potential threats. Here’s how UUVs can contribute to the security of these essential infrastructures:
- Surveillance and Monitoring: UUVs can patrol areas where underwater cables are laid to detect unauthorized or suspicious activities. They can be equipped with sensors and cameras to continuously monitor for potential physical or cyber threats, ensuring the cables’ integrity is maintained.
- Regular Inspections: UUVs can perform regular inspections of underwater cables to check for damage or signs of tampering. They can use high-resolution imaging to assess the cable’s condition and identify faults or areas that may require maintenance or repair.
- Damage Assessment: In the event of a reported fault or breakage, UUVs can be quickly deployed to the location to assess the extent of the damage. This rapid response is crucial for the timely repair of cables, which is essential to minimize communication disruptions.
- Early Threat Detection: UUVs can help in early detection of potential threats such as trawling activities, anchor drags, or natural occurrences like underwater landslides that could harm the cables. Early detection allows for preventive measures to be taken before any damage occurs.
- Data Collection and Analysis: Through the use of various instruments, UUVs can collect data on the underwater environment surrounding the cables. Analysis of this data can help predict and prevent situations that might lead to cable damage.
- Seabed Mapping: Before laying new cables, UUVs can be used to map the seabed and find the optimal route that would offer the cables the most protection. They can also monitor seabed changes over time that might pose a risk to existing cables.
- Cybersecurity Integration: Although UUVs primarily deal with physical surveillance, they can be integrated into cybersecurity networks. By working in conjunction with surface vessels and satellites, they can ensure that any physical interference with cables is reported immediately, and corresponding cyber alerts can be issued.
- Support in Repair Operations: If a cable is damaged, UUVs can assist repair ships by locating the exact position of the fault and even performing minor repairs or preparing the site for divers or robotic arms to carry out the necessary work.
By employing UUVs, navies and cable companies can ensure a proactive approach to the protection of the undersea cables that form the backbone of global communications.