January 20, 2021

Snakehead LDUUV 400x275As reported by Thedrive.com in The War Zone, the new large-displacement unmanned underwater vehicle (LDUUV) Snakehead drones will be the largest carried out by U.S. nuclear submarines and will be deployed and recovered underwater. 

Details on who is building Snakehead are scant, but General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems has stated it is building the lithium-ion LiFT battery for the system. Initial Snakehead missions will include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and downstream the Snakehead will reportedly be capable of electronic warfare.

The U.S. Navy has explored various automated payload handling systems on Ohio-class SSGNs (nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines) for deploying and recovering LDDUVs from missile tubes. Systems for LDUUV deployment and recovery are said to be in service now.

On Dec. 23, 2020, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) announced it had issued a final request for proposal (RFP) for Snakehead’s Phase 2, but only bidding companies have copies of the Snakehead RFP. The winning proposal is expected to be chosen before Sept. 30, 2021. An official Navy press release also noted, “Snakehead is a long-endurance, multi-mission UUV, deployed from submarine large open interfaces, with the capability to deploy reconfigurable payloads. It is the largest UUV intended for hosting and deployment from submarines.”

“Initial vehicles will be designed to support Intelligence Preparation of the Operating Environment (IPOE) missions,” the Navy release continued. “Future vehicle missions may include the deployment of various payloads.” 

UUV Systems Vision

IPOE signifies missions that collect information ahead of operations for planning purposes. UUVs in this role typically have side-scan sonars and bathymetric sensors that are used to map the seabed and ID objects of interest. Although the Navy’s requirements for performance, endurance, and other capabilities are not public, the contracting notice does say that Snakehead is expected to operate with a degree of autonomy using Unmanned Maritime Autonomy Architecture (UMAA) and the Common Control System (CCS). UMAA is a common set of systems and software that span USV and UUV vessels. CCS provides a common tool for UUV and USV mission planning and execution, as well as monitoring the systems on those vehicles during operations. Snakeheads will be modular, open-architecture designs that allow rapid integration of new payloads and functionality over time. They represent a major advance in unmanned systems and force multiplier in undersea warfare.

Robotics Data, a strategic partner of Robotics-World.com, has more details on companies building and deploying UUVs and USVs in its report, “Marine Robotics: Under the Sea, But On it As Well,” which is available now for purchase.