Navy testing underwater hull detection system to protect ships in contested waters

With the constant possibility of U.S. naval action in the Straits of Hormuz in international waters off Iran, it’s appropriate that Bluefin Robotics announced that its Hull Unmanned Underwater Vehicle-3 (HAUV-3) has completed Government Acceptance Testing as the production system for the Explosive Ordnance Disposal HUAV Localization System program, according to a Bluefin press release.

The HAUV-3 is designed to autonomously perform ship hull inspection and obtain 100 percent sonar coverage, a task typically performed by divers to secure ports and harbors.

The week prior to the formal Government Acceptance Testing, Bluefin provided training to Navy personnel and they operated the HAUV-3 in several in-water operational scenarios as part of the formal testing. The system demonstrated increased operational speeds and nearly twice as much endurance as its predecessor, the prototype HAUV-2, according to the company.

In addition to a standard DIDSON imaging sonar, it is equipped with a camera, which provides supplemental visual information to divers tasked with re-locating contacts. The DIDSON sonar is manufactured by a company called Sound Metrics, and is often used by fish and game commissions to count fish in riverine environments.

The Navy also conducted a series of environmental tests that froze, shook and baked one of the vehicles and its support equipment. Testing highlighted specific areas in the unmanned system that will need further ruggedization in order to optimize the system for very harsh conditions, said Bluefin, adding that operators were still able to power up all of the vehicle subsystems successfully after harsh testing.

 

In 2011, Bluefin Robotics was awarded a contract modification to the $30 million program from the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head Div., to move the system design into production. Since then, Bluefin has delivered one system, which constitutes two vehicles and support equipment. An additional two systems are in production now. 

The unmanned hull inspection evolved from a hovering, autonomous underwater vehicle initiative run by the Office of Naval Research in 2002, which was awarded to Bluefin for the autonomous vehicle and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the control systems, according to a backgrounder on the ONR website.

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