The Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) fiscal year 2023 defense policy bill recommends saving the Navy’s Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV) program by adding $100 million in research and development funding.

The Navy’s FY ‘23 budget request planned to end the Snakehead LDUUV program, which it estimated would save $186 million in FY ‘23 and nearly $517 million over the next five years (Defense Daily, April 18).

The Snakehead Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV) is loaded in Narragansett Bay in Newport, R.I. prior to christening on Feb. 2, 2022. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
The Snakehead Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV) is loaded in Narragansett Bay in Newport, R.I., prior to christening on Feb. 2, 2022. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The service said that “misalignment of Snakehead LDUUV design and procurement efforts with submarine hosting interfaces resulted in limited availability of host platforms to conduct Snakehead operations.”

It also argued cost and schedule delays with LDUUV development and Virginia-class attack submarine integration are cost prohibitive for further investment. The Snakehead is therefore limited to an alternative submarine launch and recovery interface called the Modernized Dry Deck Shelter (Mod DDS). The dry deck shelter is a module attached to a submarine that allows the vessel to launch and recover divers or vehicles while underwater.

Ending the program means the Navy would cancel the FY ‘22 Phase 2 contract award. Without Phase 2, only the single preliminary Snakehead vehicle was built. The service expects to complete Mod DDS work between FY ‘22 – ‘26 and become available for fleet use in FY ‘22, ‘23 and ‘26.

However, now the SASC FY ‘23 defense authorization bill report recommends adding $100 million back into the program.

“Despite program schedule underperformance, the committee believes the Snakehead Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle could provide an important capability to the fleet once fielded,” therefore the committee recommended providing the funds.

Notably, this comes after the Senate Appropriations Committee’s FY ‘22 defense appropriations bill report recommended ending funding for LDUUV in Phase 2, as the Navy ultimately agreed with that position in the FY ‘23 budget request. 

At the time the appropriations committee underscored the Navy had already terminated the Payload Handling System that meant to launch the LDUUV from the Virginia-class submarines and delayed awarding Phase 2 from FY ‘21 into FY ‘22. 

The Navy recently christened the initial Snakehead vehicle in February (Defense Daily, Feb. 15).

Snakehead is an accelerated acquisition program that aims to field modular long-endurance multi-mission LDUUVs that can be deployed from ports, attack submarines and Littoral Combat Ships.

The service planned for the vehicle to be used for guidance and control, navigation, situational awareness, propulsion, maneuvering and sensors to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and anti-submarine undersea missions.