Cross-functional engineering teams across the Navy are working on underwater wireless energy transfer systems that charge unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) to continue the service’s dominance of undersea warfare.
“We’re constantly being challenged by our adversaries,” said Alex Askari, a lead engineer on the team from Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division. “We need to look at new concepts and maybe change the way we operate our unmanned systems.” Operating in new ways intrinsically leads to technology challenges the Navy can address, he said.
Safety concerns, energy storage, and the way the unmanned underwater vehicles are deployed add to the ship’s operational considerations. “The Navy asset that deploys the unmanned system has to stay around in the area when it could be off conducting other missions,” Askari said. “Right now, the unmanned vehicle is deployed, conducts its mission, comes back, and then we have to retrieve it to download the data it has collected and recharge or swap out its batteries. That’s a fairly lengthy process. Imagine if we could keep all those unmanned vehicles in the operational area and autonomously charge them underwater so they didn’t have to come back to the mother ship to get charged—that could change the game completely.” Doing so would allow the UUVs to stay on station longer, increasing the persistence and, therefore, the mission effectiveness, Askari said. Underwater docking and energy transfer is relatively new to the Navy compared with how operations have historically been conducted.