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UK awards contract for Cetus extra-large AUV

The Cetus vehicle will have a modular payload bay that can be extended by inserting an additional section. (MSubs)

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has selected Plymouth-based MSubs to deliver a new extra-large autonomous underwater vehicle (XL-AUV) to support the Royal Navy (RN) to explore the utility of uncrewed submarines in the future underwater battlespace.

Known as Project Cetus βˆ’ named after a mythological sea monster – the new vehicle is seen as a first step in developing an operational XL-AUV that could operate independently, or work side by side, with crewed submarines such as the Astute class or the future Submersible Ship Nuclear (Replacement) (SSN(R)) as part of a hybrid Maritime Underwater Future Capability (MUFC). The intention is that the XL-AUV – which the MoD claims will be β€œthe largest and most complex crewless submersible operated by a European navy” – will be used as an experimental asset to reduce the risks associated with the acquisition of future large AUVs and their payloads.

Announced on 1 December, the GBP15.4 million (USD18.7 million) Project Cetus contract will see MSubs deliver the 17 tonne uncrewed submersible by the end of 2024. The contract, placed by the Submarine Delivery Agency's Autonomy Unit, is being funded by Navy Command's Develop Directorate through the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) Spearhead programme.

At 12 m in length, and 2.2 m in diameter, the battery-powered Cetus XL-AUV will be able to dive deeper than any other RN submarine and will have a range of up to 1,000 miles. The vehicle will have a modular payload bay that can be extended by inserting another section, thereby doubling the capacity. Additional batteries will allow for a further increase in range, albeit with an impact on payload.

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