Anduril Australia has announced that it will partner with the Australian Defence Force on the development of an extra large autonomous underwater vehicle (XL-AUV) for the Royal Australian Navy.
The three-year A$140 million co-funded design, development, and manufacturing program is planned to result in a new affordable, autonomous, long endurance, multi-mission capable AUV for the RAN. It will feature modular and customisable payloads for missions such as ISR and targeting.
The ambitious three-year schedule will see three prototype XL-AUVs built, and a capability assessment performed in conjunction with Head of Navy Capability, RADM Peter Quinn’s team, as well as DST Group. The project doesn’t yet have a releasable designation or a name, but it will be part of a larger capitalised SEA project.
The design, development, and manufacturing work will be performed in Australia, and a local workforce with skillsets in maritime engineering, software development, advanced manufacturing, robotics, propulsion design, and mission operations will be hired. Anduril plans to partner with Australian SMEs and the research and technology community to source as much of the supply chain locally as possible.
“The XL-AUV project is a significant investment in Australian industrial capabilities,” Executive Chairman and CEO of Anduril Australia, David Goodrich OAM said in a release. “Through this partnership, Anduril Australia will become a major player in the thriving defence industrial base in Australia and contribute to Australia becoming a leading exporter of cutting-edge autonomous capability to the rest of the world.”
Anduril Founder, Palmer Luckey added, “There is a clear need for an XL-AUV built in Australia, for Australia. The XL-AUV will harness the latest developments in autonomy, edge computing, sensor fusion, propulsion, and robotics to bring advanced capability to the Royal Australian Navy.”
With Australian Chief Engineer Dr Shane Arnott on board, Anduril has been able to bring to the XL-AUV much of the rapid prototyping, modular, and autonomous design philosophy Arnott developed for the Boeing Airpower Teaming Systems being developed for the Royal Australian Air Force’s DEF 6114 Ghost Bat (formerly Loyal Wingman) UAS program.
“Dr Arnott has had a vision for an Australian sovereign capability for many years,” Goodrich told ADBR. “We are building an incredible team of software and hardware engineers, located in Sydney, which combined with the existing talents of the Anduril Maritime team and with Dr. Arnott’s experience knowledge, will design and deliver a world class Autonomous Undersea Vehicle (AUV).
“Defence is embracing the innovation and agility that Anduril is known for” he said. “We are going to be sharing the way that Australian industry needs to work to improve Defence processes and demonstrate our go-fast model. This is a transformative moment for defence innovation in Australia”.
The XL-AUV will be a scalable design – its engineering architecture has a common forward nosecone and rear propulsion section, but with mid-sections of varying lengths that can be adapted to accommodate various payloads. The range and endurance will depend on what payload modules are carried.
“We’re a software-first company,” Goodrich told us. “The XL-AUV will be inexpensive and attritable, and it will be able to be updated on a regular basis to give it more flexibility.”
With the project planning to have three prototypes built and tested within three years, Goodrich says Anduril should be ready to commence production in year four, and operational XL-AUVs produced at significant scale and in service within five years.
Goodrich says the unit cost of an XL-AUV will depend largely on how it is configured, but says he expects it to be a fraction of competitor systems, and one-one hundredth that of a conventional crewed submarine. He adds that an uncrewed submarine has significant endurance advantages compared to a crewed vessel, and thus can offer greater flexibility and capability in key areas. It is not a replacement for manned submarines, but will significantly enhance the undersea capability of the RAN.
Anduril will also leverage the technology it acquired through its acquisition of US autonomous underwater vehicle start-up, Dive Technologies in February this year. In a statement at the time, Anduril said the acquisition would expand its suite of autonomous systems, extend its unmanned capabilities to the undersea domain, and significantly accelerate the company’s strategic growth.
As Dive technologies was a commercial company, there are no export restrictions from the US on the technology it developed, and with the XL-AUV planned to be wholly designed and built in Australia, there should be no export restrictions from Australia to allied defence forces. Goodrich told us there already is significant interest in the project in the US and other allied partner nations.