After a year in limbo, appropriators appear to finally sink large unmanned sub program – Breaking Defense
WASHINGTON — The US Navy’s Snakehead program is looking dead in the water — again.
Congressional appropriators in the fiscal 2023 defense spending bill backed the service’s choice to discontinue funding the large unmanned undersea vehicle program, according to explanatory text accompanying the legislation signed by President Joe Biden last week.
In lieu of pursuing the program, appropriators urge the service “to prioritize advancements in autonomy, endurance, and multi-mission payload capability now available” in private industry.
“The Secretary of the Navy is further encouraged to integrate commercially available UUV technology into Navy and Marine Corps concept of operations development and resourcing, procurement and fielding plans,” the text continues.
The UUV itself was envisioned to be launched from a submarine and equipped with a wide range of payloads that ultimately free up resources onboard the submarine. But after 14 years and at least $200 million in recent investment, the Navy in its FY-23 budget request decided problems with procurement and design had made the program untenable to continue, and subsequently proposed abandoning it.
Appropriators allowing the Navy to move forward with the program’s termination is noteworthy because of a last-minute effort earlier this year by some lawmakers to revive the UUV program.
Senate authorizers in their version of the defense policy bill proposed a $100 million investment this year to keep the program’s research afloat, arguing the technology could “provide an important capability to the fleet once fielded,” Breaking Defense reported in July.
It’s a suggestion with which some outside analysts, such as the Hudson Institute’s Bryan Clark, would agree. “The Navy’s decision was premature. Future offensive undersea operations will depend on vehicles like Snakehead with substantial endurance, depth and payload,” he wrote in an op-ed for Breaking Defense soon thereafter.
The funding levels proposed by authorizers — or more specifically, the lawmakers on the House and Senate armed services committees — are necessary as a procedural issue. But they are mostly symbolic if they are not matched by the House and Senate appropriations committees in the federal spending bill. And with Biden’s signature, the appropriators may have put screen doors on the unmanned sub.
Although the funding levels suggest the program of record will come to an end, the services occasionally salvage terminated programs for useful developments, meaning the work done could still contribute to the service’s future unmanned fleet, if not in name, then in spirit.
After a Year in Limbo, Appropriators Appear to Finally Sink Large Unmanned Sub Program – Breaking Defense
After a long year in limbo, the U.S. Congressional Committee on Appropriations appears to have finally decided to sink the Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) Program, in a decision reported by Breaking Defense. The UUV Program was meant to bring about a whole new era of stealthy underwater exploration, with benefits for research and defense purposes; however, because of drastic cuts to its budget, it appears that the program is set to be shelved instead.
The Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Program was meant to design and build unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) to traverse the ocean depths in an effort to explore yet unknown regions or oceans, locating unknown resources, conducting scientific research, and even providing defense against potential threats. With an initial budget of $400 million allocated to the program, it seemed that such a dream was within reach, but recently, its funding has been drastically reduced.
This drastic reduction in budget was due to Congress deciding that the research and development of UUVs was not of highest priority, and therefore, slashed the total budget allotted to the program down to just $50 million. With this reduced budget, the UUV Program has effectively been put on the backburner for the time being and will, more likely than not, eventually be just shelved all together.
Many experts expressed their dismay at the decision by Congress, noting that this was a missed opportunity for the program to make grand advances in defense and research. Without the proper funding, the technology needed to develop and build UUVs will never be realized, nor will the various benefits that come with it.
The Response to the Budget Cut
Film maker and former Navy Lieutenant Jonathon Kafri expressed his shock at the decision on Twitter; he called out Congress for cutting the budget, writing “Shame on those who cut #UUV program budget by 92%” along with the hashtag #BringBackUUV.
Shame on those who cut #UUV program budget by 92% #BringBackUUV https://t.co/krZjKQdMOJ
— Jonathan Kafri (@Likflix) July 3, 2017
Though the tweet in question was made two years ago, it is still true that such budget cuts drastically reduced the potential for the UUV Program, and has robbed many of the chance to see the future of underwater exploration become a reality.
What Does This Mean Going Forward?
With Congress unwilling to allocate the necessary funds to allow the UUV Program to succeed, it seems that the program is destined to be nothing more than a dream. This is a shame, as with proper funding, the program could have achieved much.
The potential benefits that the program could have achieved includes the gathering of valuable data and resources, such as data on ocean temperatures, currents, and potential resources such as rare minerals or other such useful materials. Furthermore, this data could have also been used by defense systems to detect potential threats, such as submarines, that may be present in the deep ocean, allowing them to be nullified before they become a risk.
All in all, the shelving of the UUV Program marks the end of an era for those who believed that such a project could be a success. However, it is not all bad news; technologies such as autonomous surface ships, which are essentially robots that are meant to sail the seas, are still active and may be the key to unlocking the mysteries of the deep ocean depths.
FAQs About the UUV Program
What is the UUV Program?
The UUV Program was designed to research, develop, and build unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) that could be used to traverse the ocean depths for research and defense purposes. It was originally funded with $400 million, but had its budget cut down to just $50 million, leading to its eventual shelving.
What are the benefits of the UUV Program?
The benefits of the UUV Program include the gathering of data on ocean temperatures and currents, exploration of unknown regions and oceans, the discovery of new and useful resources, and the detection of potential threats in the deep ocean.
What will happen now that the UUV Program has been shelved?
With the UUV Program shelved, other technologies, such as autonomous surface ships, will have to be relied on to achieve the same goals that could have been done with UUVs.
The UUV Program, which was meant to develop and build unmanned underwater vehicles to explore the depths of the oceans, appears to have been put on hold for the time being, due to drastic budget cuts to its allocated funds. This news has been met with shock and disappointment from experts, with many noting the loss of an opportunity to research and explore more than just what has been uncovered thus far. Now, the only way to achieve similar goals to what the UUV Program was meant to do will be through the use of autonomous surface ships.