By Kris Osborn
The Navy and General Dynamics Electric Boat are testing a prototype of a system that would allow the launch and recovery of unmanned underwater vehicles and other payloads from the missile tube of a cruise missile submarine.
Called the Universal Launch and Recovery Module, the system houses, launches and recovers an underwater vehicle, a Lockheed-built 10,000-pound prototype vehicle called Marlin, from the submarine’s missile tube.
The system is showing promise in early testing and is slated to go sea aboard a guided missile, nuclear powered submarine (SSGN) next year, Electric Boat officials said.
“This is real prototyping to actually go and exercise the system before we put it on an SSGN and take it to sea,” Adm. David Johnson, Program Executive Officer, Submarines, said at the 2013 Naval Submarine League Annual Symposium, Va., in October.
The system is designed for a range of potential underwater missions to include counter-mine patrol, sonar or other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
“Submarines have the ability to get really close to something. That is a big advantage,” said Franz Edson, director, mission systems & business development, General Dynamics Electric Boat.
The prototype vehicle is hooked up to temporary hydraulics and engineered to acquire a buoy at the top of the missile tube using a transponder, said Edson.
“It comes out of a tube, rotates, and then deploys. It goes off and does its thing — mine warfare, ISR, etc. –Then it comes back and it mates with that buoy before it is brought back down into the tube,” Edson said.
Once a tactical version of the technology is built, it will fill up the launch tube out to 60-inches in diameter and stretch as long as 23-feet, Edson said. The vehicle could weigh up to 30,000-pounds, he added.
The prototype vehicle is controlled by two laptop computers, removing the need to adjust the infrastructure of the submarine in order to accommodate the system, Edson explained.
“It is a gigantic elevator that will take up to 30,000 pounds and raise it from inside the ship to outside the ship. We’re not modifying the submarine’s infrastructure to control this,” Edson said.
In addition to being configured to swim from an SSGN, the system is also being configured by Electric Boat and the Navy to work from the Virginia Payload Modules of Virginia-Class attack submarines to begin construction by 2019, Edson said.
Virginia Payload Modules, or VPM, consist of an effort to increase the missile firing capability of Virginia-Class submarines from 12 to 40 vertically fired missiles.