August 10, 2022


While the manned underwater part of the RAN capability equation has stumbled from disaster to disaster, culminating in the cancellation of the Attack program, developments for unmanned systems are much more encouraging. Many analysts believe that in the near future, these emerging technologies will dominate all aspects of submarine warfare.

Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are the most expensive and complex military platforms in existence, but not far behind are nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. After these come a variety of attack submarines. All of them are at least two orders of magnitude more expensive than combat aircraft. If some or all submarines could be replaced by intelligent, autonomous Unmanned Underwater Systems (UUVs), it would revolutionize warfare and also provide massive cost savings. As with aerial platforms, once the humans are removed the cost of the platform drops – and it can be considered expendable.

It is particularly imperative for Australia to take an interest in this technology due to the impending lack of submarine capabilities of having only six Collins classes in service, which will drop to five once their program to expand the life of the type will begin. From 2026, each submarine will be retired for at least two years. Nuclear submarines won’t be available until the 2040s – so the big question is: what until then? A new class of conventional submarines is one solution, but so is the adoption of asymmetric and disruptive technologies in the form of large numbers of UUVs – or both.

One of the standout features of the Indo-Pacific International Maritime Expo in Sydney in mid-May was the number of companies investing heavily in autonomous underwater systems incorporating AI for enhanced functionality. A few days before the event, out of nowhere, American tech start-up Anduril announced that it was in negotiations for a $140 million deal with the RAN to co-finance the design and local manufacture of under-engineered vehicles. Extra Large Autonomous Mariners (XL-AUV).

This is an extract from the APDR. To read the full story click here.

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