UAS & Robotics

Navy's new underwater drone looks and swims like a fish

Navy GhostSwimmer UUV fish

The Navy recently completed tests on an unmanned underwater vehicle that bring a new twist in the quest for stealthy UUVs that will run silent as well as deep.

The GhostSwimmer is about 5 feet long, weighs 100 pounds and looks like a fish—a tuna, more or less. More importantly, though, it swims like a fish, propelling itself by moving its tail fin back and forth, which keeps its motions more quiet than other UUVs of the same size, which use propellers.

Developed by Boston Engineering as part of the Chief of Naval Operations' Rapid Innovation Cell project, Silent NEMO, GhostSwimmer was tested at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Norfolk, Va., gathering data on tides, current and weather conditions for the development of future tasks, the Navy said in a release.

The UUV also could be put to use on other tasks, such as searching for mines around a ship—like the more conventional UUV, the Kinfefish, which was developed to prowl the waters around the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships—performing hull inspections, or conducting ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance).

The battery-powered GhostSwimmer can function in depths down to 300 feet and operates either autonomously or under remote control, via a 500-foot tether and a laptop PC. The tether allows it to transmit data directly back to the host ship; when untethered, it must come to the surface to communicate.

The Chief of Naval Operations' Rapid Innovation Cell, or CRIC, was set up in 2012 to encourage young sailors to promote innovative ideas, such as GhostSwimmer. "This project and others that we are working on at the CRIC are important because we are harnessing the brainpower and talents of junior sailors," Capt. Jim Loper, department head for Concepts and Innovation at the Navy Warfare Development Command, said in the release. "The opportunity for a young sailor who has a good idea to get that idea heard, and to get it turned into action, is greater [now] than any other time in our Navy's history."

"Our mantra is 'you have permission to be creative',” Loper said.” We want our people to go out there and dream big dreams and put them into action. We want to see projects like this replicated throughout the fleet.”

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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