In an effort to bolster its undersea naval operations, China may be preparing to deploy its massive new unmanned submarines, providing the first indication of a much larger program that may be underway.
A report in Naval News by defense analyst H.I. Sutton showed a satellite image of two Extremely Large Unmanned Vehicles (XLUUV) at the Sanya Naval Base.
The Sanya Naval Base, also known as Yulin Naval Base, located in Sanya on Hainan Island, is a Chinese naval base of strategic importance in the disputed South China Sea.
According to the report, although the two cars have been there since March-April 2021, they have only been spotted now and their rankings refer to trials or testing.
According to a Naval News report, the first XLUUV shown in the satellite image is about 16 meters long and two meters wide with a smooth arc. In the tail, it appears to have two adjacent propellers, suggesting that it may be related to the HSU-001 Large Displacement Unmanned Vehicle (LDUUV), which was first unveiled in 2019.
Although very little is known about HSU-001 in terms of technical details, it is believed to be China’s first self-driving autonomous vehicle (AUV). It was first shown in a parade to commemorate the country’s 70th anniversary in 2019.
Writing in Covert Shores, Sutton noted that the HSU-001 is about the same size as the US Navy’s LDUUV projects, suggesting that it is large enough to carry smaller UUVs or possibly sensors or mines.
According to Sutton, the other XLUUVs are externally simpler, much less bulky but also about 18 meters longer, and their design is reminiscent of Lockheed Martin’s competitor to the US Navy’s Orca XLUUV program, which was awarded to Boeing.
Large unmanned submarines are seen as a key emerging technology in naval warfare. In an effort to enhance its naval power, China in recent years has worked to build up its naval capabilities by developing undersea unmanned vehicles.
Experts believe that the Chinese HSU-001 is roughly similar to the US Navy’s LDUUV, the “Snakehead”, which is designed for tasks such as intelligence preparation for the environment (IPOE) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and is relatively smaller than the “Orca”, the US Navy’s XLUUV, which was unveiled in May.
An earlier report in the National Interest said that when compared to large US UUV designs, Chinese designs appear wider and have a dual thrust that is expected to increase stability and should reduce noise as well. It is believed that the design could accommodate external torpedoes and mines.
In May, the US Naval Systems Command unveiled the first-ever Orca Large Unmanned Vehicle (XLUUV) built by Boeing as part of a project.ct to produce five of these compounds. Based on Boeing’s 51-foot-tall Echo Voyager, the Orca is designed for offensive missions including mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, electronic warfare and strike missions.
However, the delivery of the American ship Orca was delayed. Media reports based on budget documents said that “due to contractor challenges and supplier issues,” the first five Orca drones, which were scheduled for delivery in December 2020, will only be delivered by September 2023.