Navy Receives First of Six Prototype Extra Large Orca Underwater Drones

December 21, 2023 10:34 AM
Undated photo of Orca XLUUV. Boeing Photo

The Navy received its first Orca Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV) prototype this week.

Boeing officially handed over the XLUUV Test Asset System (XLE0) to the Navy following its christening in 2022 and a series of in-water trials that began in Huntington Beach, Calif., last spring. Orca was ordered from the company in 2019 to address a 2015 joint emergent operational need for an underwater mining platform. To date, the Navy is slated to receive six XLUUV prototypes.

Among these, the XLE0 was ordered to inform the development of the other five Orca prototypes. According to a Naval Sea Systems Command release on the delivery, the five Orcas will be constructed and delivered at a future date.

Both Boeing and the Navy highlighted the progress made through the transfer of XLE0 to the Navy. In a company press release Ann Stevens, Boeing Maritime and Intelligence Systems vice president, stated that their work created “the most advanced and capable UUV in the world.”

“This is the culmination of more than a decade of pioneering work, developing a long-range, fully autonomous undersea vehicle with a large payload capacity that can operate completely independently of a host vehicle,” said Stevens.

The Navy shared Boeing’s sentiment on the progress made, with the NAVSEA release calling the delivery a “significant milestone in advancing the Navy’s undersea capabilities.”

Based on lessons learned from Boeing’s half-century of experience with unmanned underwater vehicles and the Echo Voyager, a proof-of-concept XLUUV from 2017 that spent over 10,000 hours at sea, Orca is the Navy’s first unmanned diesel-electric submarine. The XLUUV is expected to operate autonomously over hundreds of miles and perform various missions with its modular payload bay. While the focus of the Navy for Orca is the development of an underwater mining capability, the drone’s bay is expected to host a variety of future mission sets, including electronic warfare, intelligence gathering and more.

Despite Orca’s cutting-edge capabilities, the program has run into several issues. The Government Accountability Office has claimed that the XLUUV program has gone $242M over budget and is delayed by three years.

The delivery of the first Orca prototype is the latest development under the Navy’s unmanned push, which aims to pursue more unmanned surface and underwater vessel concepts to supplement the future fleet.

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa is a freelance defense journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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