Defence unleashes promise of autonomous, underwater vessels


Defence is often criticised for favouring large, traditional naval systems such as submarines and frigates while going slow on the future role of small, autonomous and unmanned underwater systems.

Following news last month that defence was in negotiations for a US$100 million co-funded design, development and manufacturing programme for extra large autonomous underwater vehicles (XL-AUVs), it is becoming clear that defence sees a big future in manufacturing autonomous craft.

Defence has partnered with global tech company Anduril, and the company, defence scientists and navy personnel will produce three prototype XLAUVs over three years, delivering a manufacture-ready vehicle at the end of 2025.

Now chief defence scientist Professor Tanya Monro has explained the project aims to broaden Australia’s uncrewed undersea vehicle industry, ensuring Australia is at the forefront of robotic autonomous systems.

Professor Munro said: “We have long recognised in defence that we need to transition innovative concepts into capability more quickly.

“That urgency to deliver impact is what shapes our Defence innovation programs, and is the driving force behind ‘More, Together’, our 10-year Defence science and technology strategy.”

She said XL-AUVs were an example of how technology development could be fast-tracked to keep pace with a changing strategic environment.

The ambitious XLAUV development programme, partly funded by defence’s Next Generation Technologies Fund, aims to establish the foundations of an Australian sovereign XLAUV capability while strengthening Defence’s understanding of the technology associated with operating these platforms.

Head of navy capability Rear Admiral Peter Quinn said the programme would focus on the capability first, and use technology to find solutions to problems.

Quinn said: “We will build a little, test a little and learn a lot.”

XLAUVs are typically between 10 and 30 metres long and have the potential to be a stealthy, multi-role, undersea capability, complementing the navy’s submarine and surface combatant force

In addition, a large diameter autonomous undersea vehicle will be delivered to Australia as a testbed vehicle to enable experimentation, testing and validation to commence from the first quarter of next year.

For Anduril Australia, the XLAUV program is the first of many significant investments in Australian industrial capabilities designed to deliver disruptive autonomous capabilities.

CEO of Anduril Australia David Goodrich said through the partnership, Anduril Australia would become a major player in the thriving defence industrial base iand contribute to Australia becoming a leading exporter of cutting-edge autonomous capability.

Picture: Anduril Industries

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