With Riptide assist, BAE moves up in underwater vehicle size

More than one year on from its Riptide acquisition, BAE Systems' U.S. subsidiary has moved up from providing just small unmanned underwater vehicles to adding a medium class vehicle.

BAE Systems’ U.S. subsidiary made its entry into the unmanned undersea vehicle manufacturing arena last year through the acquisition of Riptide Autonomous Solutions.

Fast forward to more than a year later and BAE Systems Inc. is moving up the UUV size food chain to the medium variant from small, which Riptide had focused on up until the transaction closed.

“As we work with more and more customers, they want more and more things on the vehicles,” said Jeff Smith, chief scientist for BAE’s Fast Labs research-and-development organization that Riptide is part of.

The new Riptide UUV-12 model, named such for being one foot in diameter, is intended as BAE’s step in that direction to provide vehicles with the ability to house larger payloads for information collection and communications functions.

Communication challenges with UUVs are one frequently-mentioned issue with those platforms even with advances in software to make them autonomous once underwater. Power is a second related item that both platform makers like BAE and other companies focused on augmenting technologies are working on.

“A lot of the vehicles are good for a day-long mission, but we’re seeing a lot of requests from diff customers across all areas of government for multi-month missions,” said Jayne Shelton, product line director for Riptide, adding power is “something that we’re taking a look at and investing in.”

So what exactly makes power the hurdle that it is for underwater vehicles? Smith estimated that water is around 800 times more dense than air and that slows the UUV down in the water, especially as it goes down to greater depths.

“The reason the U.S. submarine force has an entire fleet is they have nuclear reactors in every vehicle because they need so much energy and power,” Smith said.

“UUVs are in the same state, you need a lot of energy to push the vehicle through the water,” Smith added. “The commercial vehicle market for electric power has helped us a lot, but it’s an uphill battle and long-term fight."