The U.S. Naval Underwater Warfare Center and the Office of Unmanned and Small Combat Ship Programs held a public launch of a prototype large-displacement Snakehead unmanned underwater vehicle (Snakehead), which apparently is being created by analogy with the Russian Poseidon submarine platform.
For twenty years, the US Navy has been nurturing plans for a large, autonomous multi-purpose unmanned vehicle. He had to have a large power reserve and considerable autonomy.
The performance characteristics of the first-born have not yet been disclosed, but according to some indirect signs, experts were able to make certain assumptions. In particular, the press release says that Snakehead is supposed to be launched from "shelter on the deck of some submarines." Torpedo tubes are not considered, therefore, the diameter of the "Snakehead" is more than 533 millimeters.
The information received immediately led to the conclusion on which submarines the drone will be based. Today, four Ohio-class nuclear submarines and at least six other Virginia-class submarines have such docks. In addition, the Seawolf-class USS Jimmy Carter spy submarine has a large compartment for delivering saboteurs and their watercraft to the landing sites.
In addition, a year ago there was a report that the option of launching Snakehead using a universal module similar to an elevator that extends from modified tubes of Trident ballistic missiles was being considered. The diameter of the Trident rocket is 1.8 meters. Finally, there are photographs showing participants in the launch of the submarine against the backdrop of the Snakehead. The comparison led to the conclusion that the diameter of the submarine reaches about one and a half meters.
The engine and all Snakehead equipment are powered by lithium-ion fail-safe batteries. The device has a high degree of autonomy, thanks to artificial intelligence, and was created according to a modular system that allows you to quickly, depending on the tasks at hand, change the payload.
In official speeches, representatives of the naval forces focused on the reconnaissance nature of the "Snakehead" - collecting information about specific areas and targets before the start of operations, bottom mapping, warning of the appearance of an enemy on the route, guidance and fire control of naval weapons systems, setting electronic interference . The platform is equipped with many different sensors, including side-scan sonar.
But there are no “knights of the cloak” without “daggers”. In 2018, during press briefings, the command of the US Navy casually mentioned anti-ship and anti-submarine ammunition among the future payloads of the submarine. Two years later, it was announced that the Snakehead could carry almost any warhead - from a large charge of conventional explosives to, apparently, a nuclear one.
The creators of the "Snakehead" intend to include it in a secret avionics network sensor system (NEMESIS), which includes radars for manned and unmanned aircraft, ships and submarines. The network must collect intelligence, distribute it and coordinate the actions of all forces in large operational spaces.
Snakehead is not the only underwater drone the Navy has been testing in recent years. Boeing Corporation is working on the Orca (“Killer Whale”) underwater drone, which is being created on the platform of the Echo Voyager autonomous uninhabited vehicle. The power plant is diesel-electric. Weight - 50 tons, and range - up to 6500 nautical miles.
"Orca" is completely autonomous in its actions. "Kasatka" will "destroy naval mines, submarines, surface ships, conduct electronic warfare", as well as transmit information about enemy aircraft, submarines and ships. The drone is supposed to be armed with Mk46 and Mk48 torpedoes.
The organization of the public launch of a prototype that has not yet been tested is not accidental. Recently, the US Congress has been closely monitoring military spending, which often does not produce the results declared by generals and admirals. The Snakehead submarine was supposed to show that the Navy is successfully implementing its most important programs, and that the time is not far off when a whole fleet of unmanned vehicles will surf the depths of the oceans. According to the chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Gilday, this will happen within the next five years. In addition, the first squadron of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVRON 1) has already been recruited. This happened back in 2017. There is nowhere to retreat.