Robotic Combat Platforms Open New Era Of Naval Warfare

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Robotic Combat Platforms Open New Era Of Naval Warfare

Design layout of the UMK “Varan”. IMAGE: PKB

Russia’s Nevsky Design Bureau has revealed the concepts of the Varan universal sea ship (UMK) and the multipurpose amphibious assault ship (UDK).

The UMK Varan is an aircraft-carrying complex with by a high degree of automation and the possibility of using robotic systems. The warship can carry 24 multipurpose aircraft, 6 helicopters and up to 20 unmanned aerial vehicles. The planned displacement of the UMK Varan is about 45,000t. The ship has a length of about 250m, the width of 65m, and the draft of 9m.The speed is up to 26 knots.

The UDK displacement is about 30,000t. The length of the ship is about 220 m, the width is 42m, the draft along the constructive waterline is 7m. The UDC will be capable of developing a speed of about 24 knots and have seven helicopter landing sites on the deck.

Projects like the UMK Varan demonstrate the current trend towards the development of unmanned multipurpose combat systems. In the perspective of about 20-30 years, such system could become fully robotic or almost fully robotic with a minimal crew on board. The format and conditions of the naval warfare in such case will be pass through drastic changes.

The situation will be further changed by the active usage underwater robotic combat system, which are now being actively developed. The most widely known of them is Russia’s nuclear-capable Poseidon (Status-6) unmanned underwater vehicle.

Russia’s president stated the country developed UUVs with a unique combination of speed, maneuverability, and range. He likely was referring to a UUV known as Status-6 but which, after a poll on MOD site, was dubbed Poseidon. That Russia has been working on such weapons has been known for a long time, including thanks to a specially prepared “leak” to the media in 2015. According to the CIA, it was a way of publicly warning the US about a likely response to ABM deployment.

The basic characteristics of this system are as follows: diameter 1.6m, length 24m, weight about 40 tons, range 10,000km, maximum speed 100-186km/h, depth of operation up to 1km. The UUV follows in the footsteps of the T-15 torpedo developed in the 1940s-1950s to deliver thermonuclear warheads to US shores in the absence of reliable missile carriers. Unlike the T-15, Poseidon is a multirole submersible system, capable of engaging a wide range of targets such as carrier battle groups, naval bases, and coast infrastructure. One of its main missions would be the delivery of a nuclear munition to enemy shores to strike important commercial targets and to inflict unacceptable costs to the enemy by creating large radioactive fallout zones, tsunamis, and other nuclear explosion effects. The UUV can also carry torpedoes, missiles, and mines to attack various surface, land, and underwater targets.  It could launch missiles using a so-called Multiple All Up Round Canister, MAC.

According to its designers, the UUV ought to unload a capsule with a cluster of cruise missiles and quickly depart to avoid falling victim to return fire. The capsule can be set up on the sea bottom and remain there for a long time, until activation. There are reports this technology was used as part of the Skif project on submarine Sarov. The UUVs would be controlled from special “command vessels”  using the standard means of  communicating with underwater vehicles, the ZEUS transmitter. The UUV would likely have a sonar for orientation purposes, a modern navigation system, and other high-tech equipment depending on the mission. utin stated that the multi-year test cycle for the nuclear power unit was finished in December 2017.

This unit has very small dimensions and an extremely high power density. It is a hundred times smaller than a submarine reactor, has greater power, and it is able to reach full power 200 times faster. Experts believe the UUV may be equipped with a nuclear reactor using the AMB-8 liquid metal heat carrier, with a power of 8-10 MW to ensure its unique speed and range. Though its top speed would likely be used only rarely. To ensure acoustic camouflage and make it appear to be a cargo vessel, its cruising speed would be 35-50  km/h with a detection range of 2-3km, and its top speed of over 180 km/h would be used only to evade attack or to deliver a nuclear munition. In any event, the UUV is invulnerable to contemporary underwater weapons. The fastest (and likely best) USN torpedo, the Mark 54 with a speed of 74km/h still can’t catch up to Poseidon or to reach its operating depth. One could use underwater nuclear mines to destroy UUVs of this sort. Such weapons (for example, UUM-125A) were developed in the US, including in the 1980s, but were closed due to their extreme cost and pollution.

Future carriers of Poseidon will be Belgorod and Khabarovsk nuclear subs, each of which could carry up to six such UUVs. Poseidon could conduct both combat and reconnaissance operations without coming into direct contact with the enemy, making them the first 5th generation submarines. Experts believe that the average cost of such a UUV would be between $30-40 million… MORE HERE

At the same time, it should be noted that having useful concepts and even developing several prototypes do not guarantee the full success as long as the particular system has not entered the full combat service yet. An example of such difficulties is the current situation with the Russian Armata main battle tank.

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