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Unmanned Approach to Surface and Undersea Vehicles

January 26, 2021 | Department of Defense

The United States Navy has been pushing the technology boundaries in recent years with its initiatives into Unmanned Vehicles (UVs). The Navy is requesting $579 million in FY2021 to go towards the research and development of Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles (LUSVs), Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MUSVs) and Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs).

LUSVs are described as being 200-300 feet long with displacement loads of 1,000-2000 tons. MUSVs are slightly smaller at 45-190 feet long with displacement loads of about 500 tons. Both are meant to be low-cost, high-endurance, multi-purpose ships with the capacity for carrying various payloads. LUSVs are large enough to carry loads such as anti-ship and land-attack missiles, whereas MUSVs can carry intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance equipment. LUSVs would also have the option of carrying a light crew as the technical operations are further developed.

XLUUVs were first funded and built by Boeing in 2019. Nicknamed “Orca,” and its prototype “Echo Voyager,” these vehicles are described to be 50 feet long with a 7.3-ton payload capacity. With a range of 6,500 nautical miles on a single fuel tank, these vehicles can run for months at a time. XLUUVs are expected to be used to support underwater warfare, electronic warfare, and strike missions.

These UV’s are all a part of the Navy’s shift to a proportional larger small surface combatant fleet architecture to meet future military challenges. The Navy plans to acquire two LUSV prototypes in 2021, one in 2022, before shifting into acquisition and production in 2023. Five of the XLUUVs are expected to be delivered for testing by the end of FY2020, with more expected by 2022.


1. Congressional Research Service Report: Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress - https://fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/R45757.pdf

2. Orca XLUUV: Boeing’s whale of an unmanned sub - https://www.naval-technology.com/features/boeing-orca-xluuv-unmanned-submarine/

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