Using drones in warfare is a pretty common concept for most at this point. But using drones underwater is a still developing evolution of warfare. The Orca submarine is a natural step in this field of unmanned underwater systems presenting new capabilities for fighting on, or rather, under the high seas. Their use, effectiveness, and purpose continue to evolve as drone submarines look to enter the battlefield.
Boeing Orca XLUUV: The Drone Submarine That Could Have Never Been
By all accounts, the Boeing Orca submarine is looking as if it will begin testing and undergoing missions soon. But before we dive into the deep, it’s important to note how we got here because it could have not happened at all.
The U.S. Navy knew it had a need for the Orca drone submarine, but it wasn’t exactly sure if it could be built. Regardless, the branch provided Boeing with contracts to build them with the first scheduled to arrive in 2020 and four more by the end of 2022.
However, here we are in 2022 awaiting the first to be delivered, hundreds of millions of dollars over budget with the other four Orca subs slated for 2024.
So, how did we get here? It seems that while the Navy did order the watercraft, it hadn’t verified whether or not Boeing was capable of making them.
“These cost overruns and schedule delays are attributable, in part, to the Navy’s decision to not require the contractor to demonstrate its readiness to fabricate the prototype XLUUVs (Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles), as called for by leading acquisition practices,” stated a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the Navy’s Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle.
The Orca submarine spending and delay is also sure to raise eyebrows among the military community, as there’ve been numerous calls for upgrading and repairing existing watercraft used by Sailors.
Naval Mishaps and Disrepair Concerns
Creating the Orca-class submarine, or any AUV, is a noble effort to advance the technology available to Sailors, but many experts agree that current upgrades are also needed.
We’ve seen a variety of naval issues, including jet fuel leaking into drinking water, fleet cannibalization, hull cracks, and missing features essential for modern combat.
Depleted fleets aren’t good under any circumstances but especially in an era beginning to be defined by the need for a good, working naval branch.
The Orca submarine could be a great boost to modernize the Navy, but our Sailors are still in need of important repairs that keep them safer both at home and when deployed.
Orca XLUUV Will Look To Deploy Mines
Although ambitious, the Orca submarine price totaling $621 million could be worth it due to the nature of its planned use.
While the seas are relatively calm now, there’s been a concentrated effort by the U.S. military to focus on improving its naval capabilities in anticipation of a potential war involving large bodies of water.
Though the Orca XLUUV specifications remain to be seen, the unmanned sub will be used to complete missions that may be too shallow or have too much of an enemy presence to put Sailors at risk. This could help save lives while completing more objectives to defend American interests.
The Navy’s 85-foot Orca unmanned submarine will be a minelayer first, delivering large hammerhead mines that wait for enemy submarines or vessels to pass before firing a torpedo. This technique can be used in multiple ways, including to defend an area you don’t want enemies to cross or trap enemies by creating a deadly perimeter.
Overall, the Orca submarine program is new but exciting. The hope is that these new drones will create a safer world for Americans and her allies.