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India’s MoD has initiated a project to design and develop Extra Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (XLUUV) for Indian Navy to bridge glaring gap in its underwater capabilities due to significant delays to Project-75I. As per reports Indian Navy needs up to 12 XLUUVs. But I would say India must operate at least2 dozen (24) XLUUVs with an endurance of at least 75 days.

The XLUUV may reportedly have a maximum ‘length with payload’ of up to 50 meters, width of up to 5 meters, height no more than 10 meters and gross weight without ballast under 300 tons making it one of the largest submarine drones at par with Germany’s Modifiable Underwater Mothership, US Navy’s Orca XLUUV and Russia’s Sarma-D, that are in the prototyping phase.

The XLUUV is intended for ISR, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and mine warfare. An external payload of up to 10 tons by mounting two 533 mm torpedo tubes and mine laying capability for the XLUUVS is being considered. 8 smaller High Endurance Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (HEAUV) are also planned for anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasure operations but they will only complement the XLUUVs. Autonomous features are a key requirement of XLUUVs that are to be deployed from a pier, conduct operations in shallow and restricted waters and return to harbour on its own. It must be capable of being transported by motherships and trailers on land.

However, I sincerely hope that XLUUVs must also be configured to operate in deep waters of ocean long wayaway from coasts autonomously. Why, simply because with a submerged maximum speed of at least 8 knots and cruising speed of 4 knots with endurance of over 45 days using Li-Po/Li-ion batteries or DRDO’s Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) as power source with diesel generator to recharge batteries; it is a bad idea that such a platform will only be used in shallow waters. These features practically make the XLUUVs an unmanned submarine ideally suited for deepwater long endurance missions. So, what are the uses of XLUUVs in deep water missions, here is the probable list.

1. Protect SSBNs

The world over whoever operates an SSBN the ideal component of a SSBN on patrol are 2 SSNs that guard its rear and front. As is known India doesn’t have an operational SSN, the Project 78 is likely to build only 3 SSNs. INS Chakra II, was operated by Indian Navy as a SSN but as it was leased so lacked offensive weapon. Even if the P78 materialize India will be always be handicapped to protect the SSBNs with just 1 SSN for each SSBN. If Indian Navy uses 1 or 2 XLUUVs along with a single SSN to protect a SSBN, it will give all round protection to the SSBNs whenever they go out on patrol.

2. Protect CBGs

A CBG or Carrier Battle Group is centred around an aircraft carrier, which operates alongside a fleet of destroyers, frigates, supply ships, amphibious assault ship,oilers, missile boats, and at least 2 submarines. Whenever a CBG is on the move, not many will know but it patrols only up to that area till where the CBG is provided cover by submarines. USA that operates 11 nuke powered aircraft carriers and 11 carrier battle groups operates them anywhere in the world since these CBGs are covered by 2 SSNs that in itself have unlimited range.

Operating 2 SSNs with a CBG is a luxury Indian Navy can’t afford. At best it can operate 2 SSKs with a CBG but that will limit the range of CBG it can operate since the SSKs have a maximum of 45-day endurance and even with AIP a SSK will have 60-day endurance, meaning a CBG of INS Vikrant or INS Vikramaditya can operate only till that area till the SSKs can provide cover. If Indian Navy operates 2 or 3 XLUUVs along with a SSK to cover a CBG, then a CBG can operate till far as the endurance of XLUUVs exists.

3. Protect/Patrol Indian Ocean

Many don’t know that Indian Navy since 1947 wanted 4 aircraft carriers with 3 always operational, mainly to patrol and protect the vast Indian Ocean till its southern limits. But CCS/MoD didn’t approve of the plan and as such Indian Navy is unlikely to ever have 3 operational aircraft carriers together, mainly due to financial reasons. This has basically limited the scope of operational patrol of Indian Navy only in the northern Indian Ocean, where as southern half of the Indian Ocean remains unprotected. Even with P8i or MQ9B Predator drones only till Madagascar and southern end of Sumatra will be covered.

This is a big gap that needs to be filled, and XLUUVs can greatly help patrol/protect the southern part of Indian Ocean. Why I say it is important as many may not know but the fact is that China has been steadily increasing its illegal fishing in the southern part of Indian Ocean. China operates dozens of fully mechanized fishing ships (not trawlers) that drag vast nets stretching several hundred yards, that basically pick up the entire shoal/school of fishes leaving very little to reach up to the northern Indian Ocean. As such, fact is fisher folk in India have seen a steady decline in their catch that has been compounded by climate change. If XLUUVs are used to protect/patrol the areas of Indian Ocean where constant patrol by P8i or MQ9B Predator drones is not possible, then may be a lot of fishes can be saved from illegal fishing of Chinese ships.

I sincerely hope Indian Navy doesn’t just limit the use of XLUUVs to coastal surveillance.

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Article by JOYDEEP GHOSH ,  cannot be republished Partially or Full without consent from Writer or