Saturday, May 22, 2010

China Pushing Forward on UUVs

Defense News


China Pushing Forward on UUVs


TAIPEI — China’s Navy is working on unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) to sweep mines, do oceanographic research, gather intelligence — and possibly lay or cut undersea communications cables.

“In addition to potentially cutting or even tapping communications cables, however, I think another major issue is how Chinese UUVs might be used to either disrupt another nation’s undersea infrastructure [sensors] or also put in place China’s own similar infrastructure,” said Lyle Goldstein, director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College.

Western observers aren’t entirely sure how advanced the Chinese Navy’s work is, Goldstein said.

China’s military could be learning from development of a variety of sophisticated mines and torpedoes by the China Shipbuilding Trading Company (CSTC). In particular, CSTC produces the EM-56 self-propelled mine, EM-22 multipurpose ground mine and the EM-57 remote-controlled mine with a 300-kilogram warhead deployed by submarines.

They might also be learning from remotely controlled operated vehicles (ROV) and other commercial vehicles.

“Finding information on Chinese developments is difficult,” said Andrew Henderson, general manager, AMI Unmanned Systems. “However, from what we’ve tracked, UUV technology sold to China has been on the commercial end of the UUV business, with sales of ROVs to China intended mainly for offshore oil and natural gas exploration.”

Examples of European companies selling ROV technology to China for commercial use include U.K.-based Soil Machine Dynamics, which in May 2008 won a contract from China Shipbuilding and Offshore International for a 100HP Quasar work class ROV, and in September 2008 the company was awarded a contract to supply two 1,000-meter-rated Quantum ROVs to Offshore Oil Engineering of China.

Others companies selling ROVs to China for commercial use include Perry Slingsby and Atlas Elektronik.

“The contracts have averaged around one to two systems each, so the numbers are not large, but business is being done,” Henderson said.

Goldstein said sales of European UUV technology to China are “just scratching the surface.”

China has also been developing autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), but “an extensive open source scrub of Chinese UUVs” indicates that “China has made less progress with AUVs than ROVs,” said Bob Nugent, vice president of advisory services at AMI International, a naval analyses firm based in Washington state.

Goldstein said earlier that Chinese UUVs include the Hairen 1 remote-controlled undersea robot prototype built in the mid-1980s by the Shenyang Institute of Automation Robotics Laboratory; the Tansuozhe UUV in 1993; and with Russian researchers, the CR-01 UUV based on the Russian MT-88.

More recently, China has developed the Zhishui 3 UUV prototype with dual tail propellers and two cross-tunnel thrusters. Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics has developed the SPC-3 robofish UUV prototype. Other projects include glider-type UUVs designed by Tianjin University.

The Chinese Navy is also conducting UUV swarming research using acoustic communications methods and developing UUVs as nodes for larger information networks.

“On the swarm concept, I would reiterate that this idea seems quite important in the Chinese literature that we reviewed,” Goldstein said. “As one of the benefits of employing unmanned systems is the significantly lower cost, this may be an obvious reason why employing them in groups becomes feasible.”

As for communications, “it is not too difficult to imagine UUVs operating as part of a undersea network, where some are optimized for sensing, perhaps others for shooting, and still others are primarily serving as communications relay stations,” he said. These would act like communication buoys that might surface occasionally to send a signal to a satellite.

However, battery power remains a major constraint and could force Chinese designers to avoid overloading a single system with too many functions, Goldstein said.