Worldwide increases in political uncertainty, decreasing numbers of U.S. SSNs (to about 70 in 2000), and the presence of 505 submarines in 38 navies (other than the Soviet and U.S. Navy) soon to number 44; all point to the need for force multipliers in the U.S. Navy.
Of these submarines, the non-nuclear boats are increasingly powered by air independent quiet systems such as fuel cells and Stirling engines.
As in air and surface systems, such force multipliers may become available through unmanned systems. In my opinion it is most fortunate that DARPA has taken on the job of initiating the effort with a most sophisticated technological leadership involving such powerful organizations as Draper Labs, Bell Labs, Lockheed, Raytheon, and others.
The initially planned 36-foot UUVs are aimed at a classified list of missions. An expanded future list may demand a diversity of sizes and types just as has the list of aircraft missions, while some promising technologies may expand the missions by increasing: run or loiter time; control fiber length; stored energy; navigation accuracy; and control range by satellite communications.
The GPS positioning system which could be sampled periodically can provide position to meters. Commercially available sets are about the size of a pocket calculator and reasonable in price.
Advances in fuel cells have been rapid, most promising, and well understood by DARPA There is yet another source of energy worth considering. About 20 years ago I managed for the National Institute of Health the main artificial heart program –until the VietNam War took all the money. We needed a power source which could fit into a human body for years. The best potential source turned out to be Plutonium 238 which is produced as a byproduct of power reactor operation. The AEC became interested and went so far as to develop the Pu-238 energy source for a heart pacemaker. This technology applied to a UUV might do wonders in expanding run and loiter time and therefore mission envelope. The constant emission of heat would require suitable waste heat disposal in non detectable ways. (Note: Pu-238 is not the bomb material Pu-239.)
Squirt transmission by microwave radio or laser to and from control via satellite seems a future feasibility which could be programmed into a suitable sampling system and perhaps involve a trailed surface-breaking antenna. The development of antennas of minimum delectability might further lead to a variety of electronic warfare missions.
Increasing sonar effectiveness may lead to the mission of detecting the loudest machines made by man – high speed aircraft.
A fascinating possibility seems to exist in the lasing optical fiber which might extend control to hundreds of miles; this combined with some of the above could vastly expand the variety of missions. This could be particularly important to a system where teams on the surface of arctic ice operate the UUVs.
The possibility seems to exist that satellites and aircraft may at some time be able to laser-scan the ocean to detect submerged submarines at shallow depths. Such an eventuality might make valuable UUVs designed to lay the analog of a smoke screen over the submarine.
If ASW aircraft become more effective the UW may make more feasible the shooting down of such air assets from positions not giving away the sub’s posit.
Perhaps one can think of a SEA WOLF Class submarine escorted by a number of UUVs carrying aluminum burning underwater rockets of the type demonstrated by Cal Gongwer to ONR in the 50’s which would destroy incoming torpedoes.
If submarine quieting really becomes so effective as to invalidate passive sonars, UUVs might be thought of as active sonar carriers or at least bistatic sources. If coatings reduce active sonar detections the UUVs might be used to tow filamentous nets for zero range detections.
A very dangerous application of the small submarines envisioned might be the transport of UDT personnel, internally or externally carried. A UUV may also turn out to be the best counter to such activity.
It is my guess that the technology of UUVs will develop much faster than that of manned submarines and that much that is learned will be applicable to later manned boats.
If UUVs become viable systems for the U.S. Navy, the principles will soon be adopted by other Navies. Indeed a number of foreign UUVs are now in development. Their effectiveness against submarines, torpedoes and UDT vehicles would naturally spread to effectiveness against other UUVs.
A fascinating new vision now unfolds — with a huge ocean containing large numbers of UUVs, each of limited detection range against the others and each looking for the capitol ship submarine guarded by UUVs. The scene becomes much like the air battles of the Pacific in WW n where decisions were determined by huge dog fights among fighting aircraft between the capital units. The parallel is made more striking as one looks at the numbers. Our 70 or so SSNs are of about the magnitude of the numbers of aircraft carriers in WW II. In that war the U.S. built 100,000 planes a year to win. The Grumman Corp., after a few months development, built 15,000 F6F fighter planes and these shot down 60% of the Japanese planes downed in WW II.
When the technology gets to the point where UUVs fight UUVs, numbers take on a new importance along the lines of Lanchester’s Modern war. Perhaps some submarines become even larger to carry hundreds of UUVs. Submariners had best study the history of AIR WAR!