Navy deploys first underwater drone from USS North Dakota
Groton — For the first time in the history of the Navy's submarine force, an underwater drone has been successfully deployed and recovered from a submarine during a military operation.
Though the Navy has tested unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) off submarines before, this is the first time one was successfully deployed during operations.
The REMUS 600 was deployed from the USS North Dakota, the Navy's newest — though not for long — Virginia-class attack submarine. The boat returned Monday to the Naval Submarine Base following a nearly two-month mission in the Mediterranean Sea to deploy the vehicle. The vehicle was launched from a module on top of the boat called the dry deck shelter, which every Virginia-class submarine has the capability to carry. In addition to UUVs, the dry deck shelter, or DDS as it's called by the Navy, also has the capability to launch special forces and different payloads. The REMUS 600 performed a mission while launched, though Navy officials would not discuss the specifics of the mission Monday.
The mission fits into the Navy's overall plan for undersea dominance, according to Submarine Force Atlantic spokesman Cmdr. Tommy Crosby, and is one example of how the Navy is figuring out how to use UUVs operationally in the submarine force.
North Dakota is homeported in Groton and was commissioned in October 2014. It is the first of the eight-ship group of Virginia-class submarines called Block III. The Block III contract, which was authorized by Congress in 2008, calls for building two submarines a year.
The boat has yet to leave for its maiden deployment, but the Navy chose it to carry out this mission because it was in the right place in its operational schedule and the crew's state of training was where it needed to be, according to Capt. Doug Gordon, the submarine's commanding officer.
"The crew did a phenomenal job," Gordon said from the pier next to where North Dakota was docked. "They exceeded all of my expectations. I couldn't have asked for a better effort from the guys on the boat."
North Dakota's crew of about 135 was part of what the Navy is calling a groundbreaking effort. The majority of the crew members have never deployed before.
Though Navy officials won't say much about how they plan to use the REMUS 600, it does give them the opportunity to be in two places at once, Gordon said.
"We can let the UUV do its thing while we're doing other operations," he said.
Gordon said the mission was "a proof of concept that 'Hey, this is something that we could go do'" and "a launching point for other options." He declined to provide further specifics about the mission. A report will be generated that details the launching of the REMUS 600 and will be reviewed by high-level Navy officials.
"The REMUS 600 was designed through funding from the Office of Naval Research to support the Navy's growing need for operations requiring extended endurance, increased payload capacity, and greater operating depth," Graham Lester, vice president of sales & marketing for Hydroid Inc., said in a statement. "The REMUS 600 is an autonomous workhorse."
The UUV is designed to travel to depths of slightly more than 1,965 feet, though it can also be configured for work in water slightly deeper than 4,900 feet, and can operate as long as 24 hours, Lester said.
In addition to the Navy, Hydroid's customers include the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and other international navies that are allies, the science community, studying climate change and the world's oceans, and the offshore oil and gas industry for geophysical survey and pipeline inspection.
Lester did not provide the cost of the REMUS 600, which typically takes six to 18 months to develop from concept to construction.
Use of the REMUS 600 is part of a larger effort by the Navy to use off-the-shelf commercial technology, according to Crosby.
North Dakota is getting to ready to go into post-shakedown availability, a testing and evaluation period completed by all new ships.