The Ministry of Defence has said it will provide £2.5 million (U.S. $3.3 million) for the winning bidder to design and refit an existing platform, and trial the utility of extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles, known as XLUUVs.
A further £2 million could go toward the trials if the cash-strapped MoD can find the required funds — something the announcement concedes is unlikely.
The three-year effort includes a yearlong research, design and vehicle refit as the first stage, followed by a two-year program to test a large unmanned submarine’s ability to undertake a series of roles.
The announcement specifically mentions covert intelligence gathering, the deployment and recovery of sensors, and anti-submarine warfare, but the MoD was it clear it is seeking a modular payload design to cover a range of additional capabilities.
The British decision to explore the use of XLUUVS comes weeks after the U.S. Navy awarded Boeing a deal to fabricate, test and deliver four unmanned submarines.
Based on Boeing’s Echo Voyager demonstrator vehicle, the U.S. company beat rival Lockheed Martin to a $43 million deal to deliver the platform, known as the Orca, by 2022.
A Lockheed Martin spokesman in the U.K. said the company was aware of the British program but didn’t commit to bidding at this stage.
“We are determining how our experience and technologies could pair with the MoD requirements,” the spokesman said.