The U.S. Navy has received the first Orca unmanned submarine, according to a Boeing news release.
As noted by the company, Boeing has recently achieved a significant milestone in maritime defense technology, marking the delivery of the first Orca Extra Large Uncrewed Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV) to the U.S. Navy.
This autonomous submarine, designated by the Navy as “Orca,” represents a new class of undersea technology.
Ann Stevens, Vice President of Boeing Maritime and Intelligence Systems, hailed this achievement as the fruition of over a decade of pioneering work. Stevens emphasized the vehicle’s long-range autonomy and substantial payload capacity, highlighting its capacity to operate independently of a host vehicle. The successful completion of acceptance testing this month signifies a significant leap in undersea capabilities, positioning Orca as the world’s most advanced and capable UUV.
The rigorous at-sea testing phase, conducted in collaboration with the Navy, encompassed a series of maneuvers both above and below the surface. These tests aimed to showcase Orca’s unique and versatile capabilities, a crucial step in ensuring its readiness for real-world deployment.
According to a press release, Boeing’s journey in developing Orca stems from over 50 years of experience in building and operating undersea vehicles. The project’s genesis traces back to 2012 when Boeing initiated the design and development of Echo Voyager, a pioneering proof-of-concept XLUUV. Echo Voyager, the only vehicle of its size and capability globally, has logged over 10,000 operational hours at sea, covering hundreds of nautical miles autonomously.
However, the road to Orca’s deployment hasn’t been without challenges. Last September, the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed that the program faced significant delays, stretching the delivery timeline by at least three years and surpassing its original cost estimate by over $240 million.
Despite these setbacks, the Navy envisions Orca as a multifaceted asset for underwater surveillance, electronic warfare, minesweeping, and future capabilities including ocean-floor mapping with synthetic aperture sonar. Furthermore, the prospect of integrating diverse armaments such as cruise missiles, torpedoes, and aerial drones into XLUUVs like Orca is under consideration, marking the potential for unprecedented underwater capabilities.