March 15, 2016

Echo Voyager & Russian LDUUVs as Intelligence Gatherers & Propulsion Options

Youtube description "Published on Mar 10, 2016. Echo Voyager, Boeing’s latest unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV), can operate autonomously for months at a time thanks to a hybrid rechargeable power system and modular payload bay. The 51-foot-long [15.5 m] vehicle is the latest innovation in Boeing’s UUV family, joining the 32-foot Echo Seeker and the 18-foot Echo Ranger."

Echo Voyager may be the largest of a rapidly expanding group of Large Diameter (or Displacement) Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (LDUUVs).

Much more sensor and propulsion capability for its small size can be packed into the Voyager because there is no need for manned life support equipment (no oxygen, water, food, or air conditioning) and far fewer safety measures. 

"Missions", 0:55 seconds into the Youtube, are displayed very briefly - so here they all are for slower reading:

-  Surface Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissand / Information Warfare [perhaps used for downloading deeply embedded SeaWeb node data and then relaying data to satellite. See antenna at youtube 1:10] 

-  Payload Deployment [SeaWeb sensors, undersea cable tapping equipment, environmental sensors. Though long the 51 foot Voyager can probably fit into 100 foot special missions hull extension on nuclear submarine USS Jimmy Carter.]

-  Critical Infrastructure Protection [of naval bases, ports, coastal nuclear reactors, oil terminals]

-  Weapons Platform [small torpedos, mines and a whole Voyager might be rigged to explode]

-  Unmanned Aerial Vehicle [UAV] Operations [launching UAV]

-  Subsea Search and Reconnaissance [If the smaller Echo Seeker can dive 20,000 feet under then Echo Voyager is highly likely to be able to as well. For subsea uses USS Jimmy Carter special missions also comes into the picture.]

-  Anti-submarine Warfare Search and Barrier [Can tail slow submarines]

-  Submarine Decoy [acting like a slow moving or stationary submarine]

-  Mine Countermeasures [detecting and perhaps destroying mines]

-  Battlespace Preparation [perhaps working with submarines or for an assault on a beach]

Improvements in the electrics, electronics and communications to UAVs will accelerate the development of UUVs like Echo Voyager. How autonomous Echo Voyager is will depend on the mission - particularly if it is used as a weapon (weapon uses would require closer human supervision). 

Its endurance of around three months will depend on its energy source and energy expended particularly its speed (including steady cruising or acceleration, deceleration and turns). 

ASW Uses

The increasing size and capabilities of LDUUVs are coming at a time when the capabilities of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) sensors and weapons are also increasing.

SeaWeb ASW sensors summarised as "eyes in the sky" and "ears in the sea" are becoming more sensitive perhaps making ever larger submarines all the more detectable. 

These are all putting traditional manned submarine operations at greater risk particularly slower moving conventional diesel-electric submarines (SSKs).

An SSK moving at its most efficient LIB or AIP speed of 4 knots may not realise that a very large LDUUV like the Echo Voyager has tailed it (in its "baffles") for two weeks. A 51 foot Echo Voyager is much smaller in length (hence stealthier) than a submarine. Even a WW2 Japanese 2 man submarine was 78 feet long.

An Echo Voyager may look large by UUV standards but it may be very difficult to detect if it is dull gray/black, remains at about 600 meters or deeper, has an anechoic coating and is its discrete propulsion.

Different Propulsion Solutions

Propulsion may come in at least three modes, depending on use and level of quietness (discretion) required:

1(a).  Maximum discretion might be achieved by advanced battery only (including lithium-ion batteries). A mother submarine (eg. USS Jimmy Carter) could recharge Echo Voyager while Voyager's is sitting on "Jimmy's" back behind the sail.

(above and below) Russia's Klavesin-1R ("Harpsichord") LDUUV. It, or a larger version, may be Russia's Echo "Voyager-ski". It is coloured high visibility civilian yellow but the military version would come in obscure Fifty Shades of Grey if tailing Western subs or tapping Western undersea cables, etc. Also see


1(b).  The Russian submarine equivalent is a modified Delta IV (designated BS-64 Podmoskovye). This Delta IV could recharge the Russian equivalent LDUUV (perhaps Russia's current sized Klavesin-1R or an enlarged version). Note it could have been such a Russian LDUUV that was sighted off Stockholm, Sweden in 2014-15.

Delta IV BS-64 Podmoskovye is likely alternatively based at Russia's Northern Fleet when tapping Atlantic undersea cables and with the Pacific Fleet (after Pacific cables).

2.  To tail a submarine or reconnaissance near an opponent's coast considerable discretion but also greater range might be required. A hybrid advanced battery and fuel-cell AIP solution may quietly extend range.
  -  A diesel-snorkel combination (to recharge batteries) instead of fuel-cell AIP may be appropriate (though noisy at times).
  -  Reliance on fuel-cell with batteries that are only for backup is another combination.

3.  For non-military uses quiet (discrete) operation is far less important. A different hybrid solution may be appropriate. This time an advanced battery together with regular surfacing to run a diesel engine to recharge the batteries may be appropriate. 

Sideview of an Echo Voyager (Photo courtesy Boeing)

Other major points about Echo Voyager are:

-  A military Echo Voyager could extend its range and mission capabilitities if it is considered disposable - on a one way mission. At the end of a mission non-explosive self-destruct equipment could be used to erase its hard disks and destroy other classified equipment. 

-  A 2015 gizmag article reported on Boeing patents for a UAV that turned into a UUV.

-  Voyager could use its antenna to regularly receive encrypted data to give it further instructions.

-  It could use small periscopes.

-  An unescorted, $multi-million Echo Voyager, when surfaced to run a diesel, may be rammed by a boat or ship. It could also be snagged (at any depth) by a trawl net. It could intentionally be "kidnapped" by economic opponents. So there are even civilian risks of unescorted operation.

-  Sea trials of the Echo Voyager are planned to take place off the coast of California in June-August 2016.



Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous

Thanks for your comment, but I don't see a clear depiction to a snorkel. How many mins:secs in do you see it?

If you see two could one be the Antenna and the other a Periscope?

Yes another advantage of being unmanned is greater scope to have individual pressure hulls dedicated to particular systems.



Anonymous said...

2 masts at 1:40. You might be right.

Anonymous said...

Surely the Echo Voyager is the US solution to managing the menace of quiet diesel subs?

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous [at 17/3/16 10:29AM]

Yes part of Russia's Klavesin-1R (or larger) LDUUV's job may be pursuit and sound signature collection from Western SSKs, not to mention against Western SSNs, SSGNs and SSBNs.

Operating from:

- Russia's Pacific Fleet (Kamchatka) Russia's Klavesin-1R may intercept South Korean 209s and 214s and Japanese Oyashios and Soryus.

- after Collins SSKs would require a Russian Delta IV (BS-64 Podmoskovye?) mothering a Klavesin-1R to bridge the long distances involved.

- From Tartus, Syria, Russia's Klavesin-1R could intercept many types of Mediterranian SSKs including nuclear armed Israeli Dolphins (from Haifa)

- out of Russia's Northern and Baltic Fleet bases Russia's Klavesin-1R could intercept many Western SSKs and UK SSBNs (exiting Faslane Scotland).

So Russia's LDUUV companies have a bright future. I'll turn the above into an article some time.



Anonymous said...

Given the Australian submarine program will not see the daylight until 2025 and it s supposed to last for another 30 years, should there be a much greater emphasis on drones. After all, whether on land, in the air or under water, the wars of the drones are coming.

Peter Coates said...


I argue much the same thing proposing "large ...UUVs launched from northern Australia" in of March 7, 2016.

Yes Australia is intending to buy large, unarmed, Triton UAVs and in the longer term maybe armed Reaper UAVs.

USVs (surface) may be less viable.

When Bryan Clark visited Adelaide, Australia in 2015 he may have talked to Australian industry and potential LDUUV customers about LDUUVs many benefits.

Shore launcing UUVs or air dropping, ship launching, sub piggy backing or sub towing LDUUVs are all options.

Australia may return to the viable number of 6 SSKs and 6 LDUUVs instead of the dubious 12 (political claims) of 12 SSKs.



Anonymous said...

Then a future SSK needs to seamlessly works within a networked environment including Asutralian owned as well as friendly LDUUVs. I wonder how those system engineering requirements are duly reflected. It could be a make or break differentiator.

Ztev Konrad said...

One of the intelligence gathering missions of existing submarines is to record the underwater noise signatures of various military and civilian and quasi civilian vessels. This could be why the RAAF does surface reconnaissance in East asian waters which may coincide with an underwater mission by the RAN. The resulting data allows intelligence analysts to stitch together a broad tapestry of visual and noise profiles for storing in digital libraries.
LUDDVs seem ideal for such missions

Peter Coates said...

Hi KQN [at 20/3/16 9:47 AM]

Where you are thinking along the lines "future SSK needs to seamlessly works within a networked environment including Autralian owned as well as friendly LDUUVs. I wonder how those system engineering requirements are duly reflected."

This is the monumental Western (mainly US) SeaWeb (sensor-database system) which has developed since the 1950s. It was initially constructed (including SOSUS) against the Soviet sub target and now also includes the Chinese and Noorth Korean sub target. There are many more fixed and mobile sensor modes in SeaWeb probably coinciding with with the Five Eyes alliance, as well as some nations in NATO and most trusted Asian navies, including Singapore and Japan.

Fore the most comprehensive open source information on SeaWeb put SeaWeb in Submarine Matters website's upper left search box and you'll sea about 7 articles.



Peter Coates said...

Hi Ztev [at 20/3/16 3:33 PM]

What you describe is also part of SeaWeb database building. See my response to KQN immediately above.

I would say those countries with the closest access to the US submarine combat system (the AN/BYG-1) will have the best access to SeaWeb. Other than the US itself, Australia and the UK (Cold War to the present day) probably have the best access.