Boeing and the US Navy have launched the first test asset of the Navy’s Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV).
Uncrewed underwater vessels will form a growing element of every nation’s military undersea operations but to date, those have mostly been small vessels with modest range and capabilities. But that’s changing, with the development of larger vessels such as the Orca XLUUV.
Many nations – including Australia – are seeking to develop large autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), and analysts have suggested the rise of such vessels and their inevitable weaponisation may mean the demise of crewed submarines.
Though large by the standards of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), Orca is small by the standard of crewed submarines, around 26 metres long and weighing around 50 tonnes. Endurance is reportedly measured in months.
Orca is based on Boeing’s earlier Echo Voyager concept. In April the US Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) released some images of Orca, including one of it being christened at a launch ceremony.
“The US Navy marked an important milestone in its effort to develop reliable undersea capability with the christening and first in-water test of the Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV) Test Asset System 28 April 2022 in Huntington Beach, California,” a NAVSEA release said. “The test asset system is critical in the performance and production of the five operationally relevant prototype Orca XLUUVs.”