Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] hopes to parlay an acquisition last week of a small business that designs, develops and manufactures unmanned undersea craft into a new growth channel, a company executive said this week.

“We’re always looking at when’s the right time to get in because we believe the business is very complementary to the services we already provide to our primary customer, the Navy, and in fact the Navy has had a lot of press with UUVs (unmanned underwater vehicles) and where they intend to go with them in the future,” Jim Hughes, vice president for Submarines and Fleet Support at HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding division, told Defense Daily on Monday during a phone interview. “We do see it as a growth market.”

HII's Proteus undersea vehicle for manned and unmanned operations. Photo: The Columbia Group
HII’s Proteus undersea vehicle for manned and unmanned operations. Photo: The Columbia Group

Last Friday HII announced that it had acquired the Engineering Solutions Division business from the professional services firm The Columbia Group. Terms of the deal were not announced but the unit, which has 30 employees and less than $10 million in annual sales, has been renamed the Underseas Solutions Group within Newport News.

The only program of record at the moment for the UUVs in the United States is through the Navy, the Large Displacement UUV. Hughes said this project is in the early stages with a Request for Proposals due later this year for advanced development work.

The Undersea Solutions Group isn’t involved in the Navy project now but with the combination of the new business with Newport News’ capabilities gives HII the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the program. The company is “investing prudently for the future,” Hughes said.

As for market analyses, Hughes said it’s difficult to forecast the UUV space but with the Large Displacement program, it could eventually be worth “hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe even billions of dollars in the out-years so we do think it’s going to be a big market but who know what’s really going to happen.”

“From the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) down there’s an impressive list of people that believe that capability is complementary to the tasking of the forces they have and it’s a place that they’re investing time and money through R&D so as usual we’re trying to follow our customers lead here on where do we think the right places are to focus and we believe the investment we made is kind of complementary to where we are size wise now versus where it could go,” Hughes said.

The Undersea Solutions Group has developed, built and demonstrated a large UUV called Proteus that can be operated in manned and unmanned modes. The craft is being marketed to the Special Forces community. Proteus was developed with Battelle and that relationship will continue, Hughes said.

The Undersea Solutions Group has also developed the Pluto mine hunting system and provided swimmer-delivery vehicles for Special Operations Forces. While the Navy is the primary customer, the business has delivered vehicles worldwide.