Military Embedded Systems

Large UUV to be forward-deployed by fiscal year 2026, Navy official confirms


April 04, 2023

Dan Taylor

Technology Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Graphic courtesy U.S. Navy

SEA-AIR-SPACE 2023--NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. The U.S. Navy's 85-foot uncrewed submarine -- the Orca extra-large uncrewed underwater vehicle (XLUUV) -- is now scheduled to be forward-deployed by fiscal 2026, a Navy unmanned systems program manager told attendees of the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space symposium on Tuesday.

Capt. Scot Searles, program manager for unmanned maritime systems at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), said that while the program is still contending with supply-chain issues, the first Orca XLUUV is actually in test mode ahead of fielding in the next three years. "We've got the first vehicle complete -- it's in the water," Searles said. "We're [conducting] testing, the initial results are good."

The Navy plans to deploy five of the large submarines to conduct dangerous mine-clearing responsibilities in the undersea domain. The program has been dogged by significant schedule delays and cost increases, however. 

A September 2022 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the program was three years behind schedule and $242 million (64%) over budget. Despite the Navy identifying the robotic subs as an urgent need -- meaning that the solution should be delivered within two years -- the sea service "didn't require the contractor to demonstrate that it was ready to build the subs within the planned cost and schedule," and seven years later the Navy is still without any subs that meet requirements, the GAO stated.

The original plan was to deliver the first vehicle by December 2020 and all five vehicles by the end of calendar year 2022, but now the Navy and contractor Boeing expect to deliver the five vehicles between February and June 2024, the GAO added.

Searles acknowledged that the program has had its challenges, blaming supply-chain difficulties -- and the fact that this program is the first of its kind -- for many of the setbacks.

"It's the first time we're doing this," he said. "It takes a while to work through [the challenges]. We feel like we've reached an inflection point [with] technical challenges solved. The supply-chain issues out there that everyone's seen, we're seeing that as well."

He said the program has 90% of the material it needs, with the remaining 10% affected by supply chain issues. Searles stated that since the program does have its first vehicle under test, and because supply-chain delays are at 12 weeks (rather than counted in years), the program may have turned a corner. "We're now in a very tactical mode," he said. "Our plan is to be forward-deployed by fiscal year '26."

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