Photo credit: Boeing

By Tank Murdoch

(TNS) The U.S. Navy is continuing development of an AI-powered ‘robot submarine’ that will reportedly be capable of hunting down enemy vessels and destroy them, all without human control.



The subs are under secret development by the Office of Naval Research. The project is known as CLAWS; it is described in budget documents as an autonomous undersea weapon system for clandestine use, according to New Scientist.



CLAWS will “increase mission areas into kinetic effects”, say the documents – military-speak for hunting and destroying things.

In particular, CLAWS will equip robot submarines with sensors and artificial intelligence algorithms so they can carry out complex missions on their own, such as evading enemy anti-submarine weapon systems.

As noted in a 2018 Navy research contract announcement:

The CLAWS Innovative Naval Prototype (INP) effort will develop autonomy and supporting technologies required to enable the survivability of Large and Extra Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (L&XL UUV) to complete functional assignments …

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The goals of this effort will be focused on vehicle autonomy for awareness, decision making, and validation of the autonomous behaviors. … The creation of these technologies and UNCLASSIFIED 2 behaviors will fill critical warfighting gaps at both the strategic and tactical levels.

According to a February 2019 report by the National Interest, the Navy purchased four of the large “Orca” robot subs, which the sea service hopes will fill the gap between its requirement for 66 nuclear-powered attack submarines in order to meet the needs of the various fleet commands; as of early 2019, there were only 51 attack boats in total.

The site reported:

The Navy’s $43-million purchase of four Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles, or XLUUVs, comes as the fleet struggles to build enough new manned submarines to replace older vessels that are decommissioning as their nuclear cores wear out.

“Boeing based its winning Orca XLUUV design on its Echo Voyager unmanned diesel-electric submersible,” Ben Werner explained at USNI News.

“The 51-foot-long submersible is launched from a pier and can operate autonomously while sailing up to 6,500 nautical miles without being connected to a manned mother ship, according to the Navy,” Werner noted further.

“Eventually, the Navy could also use the Orca XLUUV for mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, electronic warfare and strike missions,” according to a Navy outline of the system’s capability development.

The AI-powered robotic sub “will be modular in construction with the core vehicle providing guidance and control, navigation, autonomy, situational awareness, core communications, power distribution, energy and power, propulsion and maneuvering and mission sensors,” Seapower magazine quoted Navy officials as saying.

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“The Orca XLUUV will have well-defined interfaces for the potential of implementing cost-effective upgrades in future increments to leverage advances in technology and respond to threat changes,” it added.

The Navy’s biggest problem is the attrition rate of older Los Angeles-class attack subs, which began joining the fleet in the 1980s.

These vessels will be reaching the end of their service lives in the 2020s and at present, the Navy can’t build enough Virginia-class boats to fill the yawning gap. That’s where CLAWS comes in.

The Russian navy is also working to build an autonomous submarine capability. In July 2018 we reported:

In September 2015, details about a sophisticated, nuclear weapons-carrying undersea drone Russia was developing emerged, shocking Western military experts and observers in the U.S. and throughout the West.

NationalSecurity.news reported that the UUV — unmanned underwater vehicle — could target American and European ports without detection:


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According to officials, the developmental unmanned underwater vehicle, or UUV, when it is deployed, will be outfitted with megaton-class nuclear warheads that can destroy key ports used by U.S. nuclear-armed and powered submarines like Kings Bay, Georgia, and Puget Sound in Washington state.

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