Boeing’s BLQ-11 LMRS: A Sub-Recoverable UUV?
Unmanned Underwater Vehicles are becoming increasingly popular for a number of roles, including mine detection, advance scouting roles against enemy vessels, and basic hydrographic work. With nuclear submarines costing $2 billion and more per boat, an inexpensive surrogate that could handle some of the most dangerous jobs seems like an obvious addition – especially given the popularity of well-understood torpedo-like designs for key naval UUVs like Remus family, Bluefin-21 et. al.
Launching these UUVs is no challenge. Just build them to the 21-inch diameter limit and use the torpedo tubes. The thing is, submarines have a more restricted carrying capacity than most people think; even the US Virginia Class can carry only 26 total torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, and torpedo-like UUVs. That makes one-shot UUVs unacceptably expensive. In order to be effective, submarines will have to do something not normally done with torpedoes – recover them at the end of their mission. Enter the Long-Term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS), now known as the AN/BLQ-11 UUV…
The LMRS was begun as a 5-year, more than $100 million program for Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems, a unit of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. Testing and development work on the LMRS began back in 1997 with a contract award. Work was already well underway in 2002, and by 2005 planned another round of scheduled tests were intended to refine the system. The first launch and recovery from a submarine at sea took place in 2006.
A BLQ-11 UUV system is comprised of 2 21-inch diameter, 20 feet long UUVs, a 60-foot recovery arm that takes up one of the submarine’s torpedo tubes, a power stow, a Command and Control stow, and a spare stow. After the UUV is launched from the submarine’s torpedo tube, it transits to a series of pre-programmed waypoints in a manner similar to many flying UAVs. LMRS uses two sonar systems, an advanced computer and its own inertial navigation system to survey the ocean floor for up to 60 hours. The system is designed to withstand both torpedo-style and surface launches, and operate at depths up to 1,500 feet.
The recovery arm weighs in at about 4,400 pounds, and is the heaviest part of the system. The robotic arm recovers the UUV back into a torpedo tube. Homing and Docking sonar guides the UUV towards the recovery arm, a unique docking mechanism that extends out of the ship’s upper torpedo tube. After the UUV is captured, the recovery arm guides the UUV into the lower torpedo tube, and back into the submarine. The system allows operators to retrieve data from the vehicle and prepare it for re-launch. Meanwhile, the submarine maneuvers to rendezvous with the UUV.
Support electronics; a shore-based depot; and a special van to transport the vehicle round out the deliverable package.
Contracts & Key Events
Nov 27/07: Boeing announces that its BLQ-11 UUV and accompanying system have successfully demonstrated the first at-sea recovery of a UUV by a submarine. During the tests, a U.S. Navy attack submarine launched the AN/BLQ-11 UUV from one of its torpedo tubes, executed the required missions, then retrieved in back into the submarine using the system’s robotic arm.
This milestone was achieved with a U.S. Navy attack submarine on its first attempt and repeated two days later on the second attempt; all test objectives were met in just half the allotted time. The AN/BLQ-11 also performed several complex vehicle maneuvers during the tests, including station keeping and so-called “shadow submarine” during which the system operates underwater alongside the host submarine.
The at-sea UUV tests follow earlier assessments during which Boeing and the Navy proved that the UUV could successfully home and dock with the system’s robotic arm, while the submarine was underway. Boeing release.
Feb 05/07: Boeing announces an $11 million sole-source contract with U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command for the refurbishment of the AN/BLQ-11 Long-term Mine Reconnaissance System and further investigation of Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) capabilities and technologies via at-sea testing.
The work will be performed at Boeing facilities in Anaheim, CA and at test ranges in Puget Sound, WA; Norfolk, VA, and the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center near Andros Island, Bahamas. Boeing release.
April 5/06: Photo release: Boeing’s Long-term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS) is dropped into the Atlantic Ocean from a telescoping torpedo launcher aboard the SV Ranger to begin its underwater surveillance test mission.
January 2006: The Los Angeles Class fast-attack submarine USS Scranton [SSN 756] successfully demonstrates homing and docking of an AN/BLQ-11 Long Term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS). Capt. Paul D. Ims Jr., program manager for UUVs in the Program Executive Office for Littoral and Mine Warfare, says that repeated homing tests were conducted with slightly different configurations to assess the ability of a UUV to dock with a torpedo-tube-mounted recovery system. The final result was the first successful docking of the LMRS vehicle to a submerged submarine at-sea. US Navy release.
September 2005: The first series of tests are conducted. The LMRS UUV successfully performs a full impulse launch, transited away to a station-keeping location, and trailed a designated submarine. It was then commanded to the surface for recovery. Source.
April 7/03: Boeing officials announce that the Echo Ranger, an unmanned autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV, that performs deepwater surveying in depths up to 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), for gas, oil and telecommunications companies, has entered service in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Echo Ranger was jointly developed by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, Fugro N.V. [AEX:FUGR], and Oceaneering International, Inc. [NYSE:OII] under an alliance to provide deepwater AUV survey services around the world. The Echo Ranger can transmit survey data back to the mother ship through the water column by use of an on-board acoustic modem. A similar modem arrangement is used to send operating instructions to the vehicle and to receive critical feedback on system performance.
The Echo Ranger builds upon research and development performed by Boeing in support of its Long-Term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS). Boeing release.
Nov 11/02: Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems announces delivery of its first autonomous underwater surveillance system to the U.S. Navy. This first system is an engineering development model and will be followed by other production systems. LMRS is scheduled to deploy with Los Angeles- and Virginia-class submarines beginning in 2005.
Oct 16/97: Boeing North American Autonetics & Missile Systems Division in Anaheim, CA received a $9.8 million modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-96-C-6122) for the follow-on procurement of the detailed design for the Long Term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS) and related data. Work will be performed in Anaheim, CA, and is expected to be complete by August 1999. The Naval Sea Systems Command in Arlington, VA issued the contract.
- Boeing – Long-term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS)
- Marine Technology Reporter (July 28/05) – U.S. Navy to Test New UUV
- IEEE, OCEANS 2003. Proceedings (Vol 3, Sept 22-26/03) – Hydrodynamic modeling of LMRS unmanned underwater vehicle and tow tank test validation.
- National Defense Magazine (April 2002) – Unmanned Underwater Vehicles Not Quite There Yet, Navy Says