The rescue vessel “Igor Belousov”, currently under construction for the Russian Navy, is going to receive autonomous underwater vehicles for rescue operations and deep-sea research.
Manned mini-submarines and unmanned vehicles occupy an increasingly important place in the structure of the naval forces of different countries of the world, and are used for both combat and “humanitarian” missions.
Such systems are able to significantly increase the effectiveness of surface ships and submarines by means of providing constant and careful control of the underwater space.
As technology developed, underwater vehicles (originally created as a means of studying the seabed) acquired much wider functions beyond search-and-rescue works and carrying out special operations.
The first underwater robots appeared back in the 1950-1960s, but the real boom of multi-functionality began at the turn of the century, when the technological possibility to produce unmanned vehicles capable of carrying out the most complex operations both without human participation and with external control was achieved.
Unmanned vehicles have become a “magic wand” in situations, when the use of manned vessels was too risky or technically impossible.
Underwater robots can perform the following main functions without human interaction: combat mine fields and other underwater obstacles; increase the detection range of submarines’ hydro acoustic complexes; monitor and repair underwater objects; and explore the relief of the seabed and water mass. All this exceed the limits of military tasks. Such capabilities are needed for both naval fleets and civil organizations.
Originally underwater robots were too large to use them from conventional ships and submarines. Special carriers were created for operating such devices. Today they are still being used. For example, the SSN-23 nuclear submarine “Jimmy Carter” of the US Navy, which was put into service in 2005.
This submarine, initially designed as a standard multi-purpose submarine of the Seawolf project, at the stage of construction has undergone changes in order to make the use of underwater robots possible.
Special underwater vehicle carriers allotted to the Russian Navy provide wide possibilities for working with large multipurpose systems, both unmanned and manned.
However, technical equipment miniaturization allows creating underwater robots of the size of conventional torpedoes, sea mines, and even smaller than that. Alongside supplying the appropriate interface capabilities of the control system of a submarine, it allows for the use of such vehicles from standard submarines.
Information concerning Russia’s new and modernized submarine capabilities remains a state secret. That is why it is difficult to estimate whether or not the Russian Fleet is keeping up with its foreign rivals in this sphere.
However, as far as the non-restricted sphere is concerned –equipment for the search and rescue service of the Navy with submersibles for various purposes – it can be stated that although the Russian Navy still lags behind the leading fleets of the Western countries, it fills up that gap.
In previous years – in addition to the already mentioned Igor Belousov, which will be equipped with an underwater robot and two manned vehicles – the search-and-rescue service of the Navy received several British-made autonomous “Panther” vehicles.
Russian deep-water submersibles “Rus” and “Consul” – which are designed not only for rescue operations, but also for deep-sea research – are valuable acquisitions. Consul has successfully passed a diving test at a depth of 6500 meters. According to experts and based on the design of its solid sphere, it is capable of diving even deeper.
Consul was built in Russia, while its predecessors – the “World” underwater vehicles – were custom-built in Finland for the USSR. All the same, the percentage of foreign components in Russian vehicles is high; in particular electronics and precision mechanical units.
Alas, the problem cannot be solved by simply increasing the order for underwater vehicles. In this case a well-functioning “general purpose” industry is needed that should not be dependent exclusively on the defense complex.
Otherwise new high-tech productions may turn out to be hothouse plants that will die in adverse climate change conditions, just the way it happened to the greater part of the Soviet Union’s hi-tech military technologiesafter 1991.