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Sea Drones

Charting sustainable seas with India's solar-powered USV and the future of underwater defence

April 26, 2024 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By BEL, X / DRDO_India, Chinese Academy of Sciences, US Navy, PIB
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army

 

BEL's Zero emission Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV)

Media reports of April 11, 2024 have said that Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has unveiled a zero emission Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) designed for hydrographic survey and coastal surveillance. This eco-friendly versatile USV can be deployed for both military and civil tasks. The USV is powered by solar energy, not on fossil fuels, which also eliminates harmful emissions; an ideal solution for environment friendly tasks like surveying and monitoring marine ecosystems. Reliance on solar power ensures the commitment to sustainability. It also reduces the risks of deploying manned missions in potentially dangerous situations.

Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has unveiled a zero emission Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) designed for hydrographic survey and coastal surveillance

The versatile solar-powered USV can be deployed for multiple tasks, given its capabilities, which include:

  1. Hydrographic Survey the USV, equipped with requisite sensors and payload capacity of 30 kg, can effectively map underwater features, gather vital data and help create nautical maps, making it an ideal hydrographic survey vessel;
  2. Coastal Surveillance with its remote-controlled mode and waypoint navigation facility, the USV can be deployed for coastal surveillance of required areas, to monitor activities and provided valuable security information;
  3. Adaptability the payload capacity of 40 kg enables the USV to undertake logistics mission, for transporting supplies and/or equipment over water surface, and;
  4. Offensive Role packed with explosives, the USV could possibly also be used in kamikaze mode against a suitable target.

Concurrently, work has reportedly commenced on an indigenous High Endurance Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (HEAUV), which is to be like a mini-submarine that could be launched from ships at sea. The ability of autonomous operations and long endurance makes the HEAUV suitable for diverse missions, including; offensive, defence as also research. This mini submarine can operate for extended periods without human interference makes it ideal for long-range missions, like autonomous Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions enabling covert data collection without risking manpower. The HEAUV is also designed and equipped for limited combat capability.

The USV is powered by solar energy, not on fossil fuels, which also eliminates harmful emissions

Multiple tasks for which the HEAUV can be deployed include:

  • detection of enemy submarines;
  • locating underwater mines;
  • bathymetry and oceanography;
  • gathering vital underwater data, and;
  • search and rescue.
MAIDEN SURFACE RUN OF HIGH ENDURANCE AUTONOMOUS UNDERWATER VEHICLE (HEAUV) MEETING ALL THE MISSION PARAMETERS WERE CARRIED OUT SUCCESSFULLY AT COCHIN SHIPYARD.

Integration of the HEAUV with the indigenous aircraft carrier 'IAC-1' is being worked upon. Deployment of HEAUV from aircraft carriers or large platforms at sea will considerably extend the range of operations and capabilities of this mini submarine. Development and operationalisation of the HEAUV will certainly boost India's underwater defence and research capabilities.

CHINESE CR-01 AUV

China has developed a host of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). The Explorer (Tan Suo Zhe) AUV entered service in the PLA in November 1994. The Explorer AUV was one of the projects of 863-512 subprogramme of the 863 Programme of China. Subsequently, China developed many AUVs, like the Wukong, WZODA, CR series, Exploration series, Micro Dragon series, Sea Whale series, and Submerged Dragon Series. The WZODA AUV, which can dive to a depth of 6,000 metres, is jointly developed by Russia and China. The CR-01 AUV, successor of the WZODA AUV, is also developed jointly by China and Russia and has an endurance of 10 hours. The CR-02 AUV has been deployed by China in oceanic mineral survey. The Wukong AUV is an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) designed to operate to a depth of more than 10,000 meters, and has been successfully deployed for scientific research missions, reaching a depth of 10,896 metres.

Work has reportedly commenced on an indigenous High Endurance Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (HEAUV), which is to be like a mini-submarine that could be launched from ships at sea

CREW MEMBERS ABOARD THE VOS RAASAY RECOVER US AND BRITISH ROYAL NAVY OCEAN GLIDERS TAKING PART IN THE UNMANNED WARRIOR EXERCISE OFF THE NORTHWEST COAST OF SCOTLAND.

Interestingly, on December 15, 2016, a Chinese warship captured a US UUV in the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The autonomously operating drone had been deployed by the US Navy oceanographic surveillance ship, 'Bowditch'. After several days of China-US verbal duel, China returned the American UUV. The US military said the Bowditch and the UUV were carrying out scientific research in "international waters."

Media reports of April 11, 2024, highlighting the growing importance of the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA), have said that India and Australia are looking at closer cooperation given the increasing number of underwater assets deployed by China's People's Liberation Army. Both nations have highlighted UDA in joint defence exercises and bilateral talks, with more comprehensive collaboration planned, citing officials and analysts.

THE 2ND INDIA-AUSTRALIA 2+2 MINISTERIAL DIALOGUE WITH INDIAN DEFENCE MINISTER RAJNATH SINGH, FOREIGN MINISTER S. JAISHANKAR, AUSTRALIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER & MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, RICHARD MARLES AND THE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS PENNY WONG, IN NEW DELHI.

Increased discussion of bilateral cooperation in UDA and regional maritime security was part of the joint statement issued after the second India-Australia 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in New Delhi in November 2023. The inaugural joint research project in underwater technologies was progressing. Such efforts could lead to creation of a comprehensive sensor and surveillance network across strategic maritime locations, improving the nations' capacity to identify and monitor submarine activities and other undersea threats.

Highlighting the growing importance of the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA), India and Australia are looking at closer cooperation given the increasing number of underwater assets deployed by China's People's Liberation Army

Existing India-Australia defence agreements could support enhanced UDA collaboration, including the 2020 Mutual Logistics Support Agreement, which facilitates military engagements; the Defence Science and Technology Implementing Arrangement, which enhances interaction between the nations' defence research organisations; and the 2020 Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which broadened the scope of the defence and security relationship.

The Indian Navy has detailed its strategy for enhancing unmanned system capabilities, identifying essential technologies for development, and has extended an invitation to both local and international entities to contribute to this initiative. With ongoing projects to develop autonomous underwater vehicles, Australia is poised to collaborate with Indian companies to produce vehicles that align with naval requirements, suggesting the potential for forming a collaborative industrial consortium.