Boeing [BA] and Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] are starting a partnership on the design and production of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs), Boeing said on Thursday.

The companies are combining teams in support of the U.S. Navy’s emerging Extra Large UUV (XLUUV) program. The partnership, finalized last month, will use the companies’ design and production facilities in Huntington Beach, Calif.; Newport News, Va.; and Panama City, Fla. XLUUVs are usually categorized as over 54 inches in diameter.

The XLUUV may support multiple missions including mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).

The Echo Voyager unmanned undersea vehicle. Photo: Boeing.
The Echo Voyager unmanned undersea vehicle. Photo: Boeing.

The Navy posted a request for proposals (RFP) on the XLUUV to the FedBizOpps website in March, with amendments and changes made through May 12. The government intends to award a contract in fiscal year 2017 using a two-phase acquisition approach where up to two industry teams will win phase one, then the Navy will down select to a single winner in phase two to build the first five XLUUVs.

The Navy budgeted $61.5 million towards prototyping and testing the XLUUV in the fiscal year 2018 budget request with additional funds going towards research into remote command and control, explosive payloads, and non-lethal payloads. The Navy intends to leverage existing Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) platforms, FY 2018 budget documents say.

The government intends to lease the COTS XLUUVs for initial fleet demonstrations in FY 2018 in the Contiguous United States (CONUS) and U.S. Pacific Command theater, according to the budget documents.

Boeing also highlighted it is testing its largest and newest UUV, the Echo Voyager, off the coast of the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Southern California. The tests are verifying the Echo Voyager’s ability to operate on the surface, just beneath the surface, and undersea. Current tests include charging the battery, controlling the vehicle in currents and wave action, submerging the vehicle, and returning to the surface, a Boeing spokesperson told Defense Daily via email.

The spokesperson noted its bid for XLUUV, submitted on May 30, was “strongly influenced” by the Echo Voyager development.

The 51-foot-long vessel is designed for multiple missions and can include a modular payload bay up to 34-feet. Echo Voyager is “fully autonomous, requiring no supporting vessel for launch or recovery, enabling operation at sea for months before returning to port,” Boeing said.

Boeing first unveiled the vessel in March 2016 and the company had four “active” contracts with undisclosed government customers for it last November (Defense Daily, Nov. 4, 2016).

The next phase of Echo Voyager testing will be a long endurance run up the west coast with the vehicle operating in a fully autonomous mode, “which will allow it to complete its programmed run and return to a designated location on its own,” the spokesperson said.

The president of Boeing Phantom Works, Darryl Davis, commented the teaming aims to provide the Navy with a cost-effective, low-risk path to meet the Advanced Undersea Prototyping program needs.

“We are combining Boeing’s preeminent UUV maritime engineering team with our nation’s leading shipbuilder and Navy technical services company to get operational vehicles to the Navy years ahead of the standard acquisition process,” Davis said in a statement.

Andy Green, executive vice president of HII and president of its technical solutions division echoed this confidence.

“We look forward to a long relationship with Boeing as we embark together to field this unmanned force-multiplier for the Navy. I am confident this team will continue redefining the autonomy paradigm for UUVs,” Green added.

HII acquired the Engineering Solutions Division business from professional services firm The Columbia Group in 2015, which has been renamed the Underseas Solutions Group (USG) within the shipbuilder’s Newport News division. The USG previously developed, built, and demonstrated the Proteus, a large underwater vehicle that can operate in both manned and unmanned modes (Defense Daily, Feb. 3, 2015).