Sea Discovery

U.S. Navy to Test New UUV

The AN/BLQ-11 Mine Reconnaissance System was loaded aboard a nuclear powered fast attack submarine for testing on July 7. The Navy was scheduled to launch the UUV from Minneapolis/Saint Paul and recover the UUV while submerged during a series of tests to be conducted during the later part of July.
The AN/BLQ-11 is a UUV with capabilities that may have far-reaching implications. The system is a program run by the Navy's Program Manager for Unmanned Undersea Vehicles. Key testing activities include the Naval Sea System Command's Undersea Warfare Center Newport division (Technical Direction Agent) and the Boeing Company (System Contractor).
"The system is comprised of two UUVs, a recovery arm, a power stow, a Command and Control stow, and a spare stow," said electronics technician chief (SS) James Jeffery, the AN/BLQ-11 leading chief petty officer for Submarine Development Squadron 5 UUV Detachment. The recovery arm weighs in at about 4,400 pounds and is the heaviest part of the system.
Now installed on the boat and undergoing a series of pier side checkouts, the AN/BLQ-11 is set to undergo its first of two at-sea submarine demonstrations of the two-tube recovery approach. Based on the success of these tests, UUV technology may show significant advancement. The unique part of this system is the recovery arm, which is the first system designed to allow a submarine to capture an autonomous UUV and recover it using two torpedo tubes.
"It employs what they refer to as a two-tube recovery approach," said Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) test director, Richard Thornton. "The UUV is impulse-launched from the lower starboard torpedo tube just like a weapon. The recovery arm is extended from the upper starboard torpedo tube.
Following autonomous UUV operations, the UUV is programmed to acoustically home and dock to the recovery arm using advanced high frequency sonars. Once the UUV is docked, the recovery arm manipulates it back into the lower tube, where it is retrieved, backhauled, and ultimately refurbished for
"It is a brand new technology," said Thornton. "It's a brand new approach to launching and recovering vehicles, and that's a very complex evolution. The AN/BLQ 11, a research and development program, will provide technology and valuable lessons learned for the next generation of unmanned undersea
"The real purpose of this system and associated submarine testing is to demonstrate the launch and recovery capability, so that the technology, if it works, can be applied to future 21-inch UUVs," Thornton said.
At-sea testing will involve about four or five UUV launches over a weeklong period on an instrumented test range. While many UUVs have been tested and some are currently in use, this will be the first test of this recovery system onboard the submarine.
"We'll be at depth, we'll pre-program the vehicles to run a sortie," said Thornton. "This system, and the technologies that are going to be derived from it, may permit future UUVs to go out and conduct 40-plus hour autonomous sorties, and undertake mission and tasks based on 21st century Navy needs."
Though this will be the first time taking the system to sea, the AN/BLQ-11 has already undergone a significant amount of factory and at-sea range testing.
"We're just finishing up, in parallel with starting the on load here, a two-and-a-half year range test period," said Thornton. "We built a full-scale test fixture that we mounted to the bottom of a test barge that incorporated two 688-Class SSN torpedo tubes from the ex-USS Baton Rouge."
"We conducted testing of the recovery arm and both UUVs, then we conducted integrated testing where we actually launched the UUVs out of this fixture, had them operate autonomously, and then had them home and dock," Thornton added.

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