Home Americas US Navy launches first Orca XLUUV drone submarine

US Navy launches first Orca XLUUV drone submarine

Orca XLUUV launch
Photo: Boeing via US Navy

The US Navy revealed an important milestone for its Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV) program with the christening and first in-water test of the test vehicle last month.

According to the service, the drone submarine was launched on April 28, in Huntington Beach, California.

The prototype submarine will be critical in the performance and production of the five operationally relevant prototype Orca XLUUVs, the US Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) said.

Boeing received the first $43-million contract for the delivery of four Orca XLUUVs in 2019. In March this year, the navy awarded Boeing $72.5 million for the delivery of a “test asset system,” a prototype that would be used as a test platform to allow the operationally relevant vehicles to continue production.

The Orca XLUUV is suitable for a range of potential missions, such as mine countermeasures, anti-surface warfare (ASuW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), electronic warfare (EW), and strike missions. These will be enabled by the unmanned submarine’s an open-architecture and a modular payload bay.

The XLUUV is based on Boeing’s 51-foot-long Echo Voyager vehicle, which has a stated top speed of 8 knots, and a range of 6,500 nautical miles.

Photo: Boeing

Orca is one of several large unmanned underwater systems under development in the US. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on its Manta Ray unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) program, while the US Navy recently christened the submarine-launched Snakehead Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV). The fate of the Snakehead program is currently unclear, as the navy is proposing to cut further phases of the program after it reportedly ran into problems with integrating the Snakehead with a Virginia-class submarine.

In addition to the US, Australia and the UK have large unmanned underwater vehicle development plans in place.