Boeing Just Delivered The First ‘Orca’ Extra-Large Underwater Drone

In a groundbreaking development for naval technology, Boeing has officially delivered the first of its Orca extra-large unmanned undersea vehicles (XLUUVs) to the U.S. Navy.

Boeing’s long-anticipated delivery of the Orca, a fully autonomous uncrewed underwater vehicle (UUV), stands as a pinnacle in a journey that spans over a decade of innovation. Derived from the private venture Echo Voyager and evolving from earlier UUV concepts, the Orca boasts an impressive modular design, offering versatility for a range of mission requirements.

Originally envisioned as part of a program awarding development contracts for XLUUVs to Boeing and Lockheed Martin in 2017, the Orca faced setbacks and cost overruns. Delays, highlighted in a Government Accountability Office (GOA) report, were attributed to unaddressed design differences, necessitating component redesign and the disruptive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these challenges, Boeing successfully completed acceptance testing in December, and today’s delivery signifies a pivotal moment.

Weighing 80 tons and measuring 85 feet in length, the Orca’s modular design provides a platform for various mission capabilities. Equipped with essential features such as guidance systems, autonomy, and a distinctive extendable mast for satellite connectivity, the Orca demonstrates adaptability for diverse operational scenarios.

At the heart of its design lies a 34-foot-long payload section, capable of supporting an eight-ton payload capacity. Initially intended for mine dispensing, the Navy envisions future applications, including minesweeping, electronic warfare, undersea surveillance, and mapping the ocean floor with synthetic aperture sonar.

The Orca’s hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system, complemented by lithium-ion batteries, ensures extended underwater operations at silent cruising speeds of around three knots. The unconventional shrouded propulsor adds to its silent and efficient movement underwater. Despite its size, the launch method for the Orca remains under consideration, with possibilities including deployment from large surface ships or piers, as Naval News suggests.

As the U.S. Navy seeks a diverse range of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs), the Orca fills a crucial gap, bridging the divide between medium and extra-large UUVs. Its potential applications span from targeting enemy shipyards to conducting high-risk operations such as mine deployment in narrow waterways.

In a rapidly evolving maritime landscape increasingly dominated by uncrewed platforms, the Orca’s delivery marks a pivotal moment. As nations invest heavily in uncrewed underwater vehicles, the Orca positions itself as a formidable asset, ushering in a new era of autonomous naval capabilities.

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