Extra-Large Submarine Drones: Europe Could Jump Ahead, Or Miss Out
XLUUVs will complement crewed submarines and perform a range of missions, including higher risk ones. ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), mine laying and choke-point defense are common propositions’. First night strategic strike with cruise missiles also makes a lot of sense and is being considered by some navies.
In wartime they can be used more aggressively than crewed submarines. They are also cheaper and quicker to build allowing a rapid fleet expansion during the build-up to conflict. And because there is no crew training involved they should be made operational much quicker.
XLUUVs are unlikely to fully replace crewed submarines, there are trade-offs and it is wiser to have both. And the crewed boats may act as host platforms, or command nodes, in underwater networks of autonomous platforms.
Europe has many of the leading submarine builders in the world. Particularly in the export market. And several companies, or countries, could be placed to go it alone with XLUUVs. But we aren’t seeing it happen. Several companies have relevant research projects, and there are a handful of designs. German shipbuilder TKMS has proposed a Modifiable Underwater Mothership (MUM) design. This may hit the water in the coming years. But while it has obvious naval applications, it is being proposed as an essentially civilian design.