Autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles for the Russian Navy

AUV “Harpsichord-1R” on trials. Photo

In recent years, the direction of the so-called. autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles (AUV). This technique is capable of solving a wide range of problems and therefore is of great interest to various organizations. Now in our country at different stages there are several AUV projects, some of which are being created by order and in the interests of the navy.


Work on the topic of AUV has been carried out in our country since the mid-seventies, and at the same time the first generation of such equipment was created. New developments began in the 2000s, and by the end of the decade, real results were obtained. The first modern AUV in our fleet was the product “Harpsichord-1” developed by the Institute for Problems of Marine Technologies of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IMPT FEB RAS).

“Harpsichord-1R” was a device 5.8 m long with a diameter of 900 mm and a mass of 2.5 tons. It had electric power with four running motors, which ensured a speed of up to 2.9 knots. The device could dive to a depth of 6000 m and had a cruising range of 300 km. The control was carried out by an autonomous navigation complex capable of maintaining communication with the carrier vessel.

The main task of such an AUV was to survey the water areas and the bottom using side-scan sonar. Working in different modes, the SAC could survey a strip with a width of 200 or 800 m.A camera, water condition sensors, etc. were also on board.

Experienced “Harpsichord-2R-PM”. Later, the product acquired a yellow color. Photo CDB MT “Rubin” /

In 2008, “Harpsichord-1R” successfully passed state tests, the platform for which was some areas of the Arctic and the Far East. It was also used in a real search operation. After the completion of the tests, the device was recommended for adoption. According to reports, the Russian Navy has ordered three new AUVs, but there is no detailed information about their operation.

Larger version

In 2009, the Ministry of Defense ordered the development of an improved version of the existing AUV, called “Harpsichord-2R-PM”. Designing was entrusted to IMPT FEB RAS and CDB MT “Rubin”. The work took several years, and in 2016 two prototypes were tested. Until the end of the year, they were tested in a swimming pool, and then taken out to the Black Sea.

It is known that “Harpsichord-2R-PM” is larger and heavier than its predecessor. Its length has increased to 6.5 m, diameter – up to 1 m. Weight – approx. 3.7 tons. The architecture of energy systems has not changed. The running and maneuvering characteristics may have remained the same or improved slightly.

Famous frame from the reportage of “Channel One” with data on the project “Status-6”

It was reported that the new version of the “Harpsichord” is intended for the survey of water areas and the seabed. From this it follows that its payload is again a sonar. It also follows from the known data that control systems with an autonomous mode of operation are preserved. However, details of this kind are still lacking.

In the past, information about the possible deployment of ready-made AUVs of a new type has appeared in the media. It was argued that they can be used together with carrier submarines – they will be special-purpose nuclear submarines of projects 09787 and 09852. Later it was reported that the “Harpsichord-2R-PM” would soon enter service with the Navy.

Atomic “Poseidon”

For obvious reasons, the AUV project “Status-6” or “Poseidon” aroused the greatest public interest. He proposes the construction of a multipurpose autonomous vehicle capable of carrying a variety of payloads – incl. high power thermonuclear warhead.

According to known data, “Poseidon” has a diameter of 1.8 m and a length of approx. 20 m. The weight of the structure is up to 100 tons. The device received a nuclear power plant, which provides virtually unlimited cruising range. Some sources mentioned that the maximum speed will reach or exceed 100 knots, the depth of immersion – up to 1 km. The AUV must have a developed control system that ensures the fulfillment of all available tasks. He also needs a developed set of surveillance equipment, etc.

One of the prototypes on the Poseidon theme. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation

On board the multipurpose AUV, various payloads can be installed. According to various estimates, it is possible to use a bow SAC and a side-looking station. The device can be a “super torpedo” with a particularly powerful warhead or a carrier of mine and torpedo weapons. With the help of different loads, “Poseidon” will be able to conduct reconnaissance or identify and hit various targets. The most radical method of application involves the defeat of strategically important targets.

At the moment, the Poseidon project remains in its early stages, and a full-fledged prototype has not yet been released to sea. Not so long ago, the media reported on the production and testing of individual components and assemblies. A full-fledged launch of the AUV will take place only in the fall. In this case, it will be carried by the special nuclear submarine “Belgorod”, pr. 09852.

The prospects for Project Status 6 / Poseidon are still unclear, but it has attracted the attention of military and specialists around the world. The potential capabilities of such an AUV, its value for the armed forces and its impact on the military-political situation in the world are discussed. Despite the mass of skeptical assessments, there are also serious concerns. Which point of view was closer to the truth will become known later, when Poseidon comes to operation in the Navy.

Replace “Surrogate”

At the end of 2016, CDB MT “Rubin” announced the proactive development of a concept design for an AUV with the code “Surrogate”. At that time, the bureau formed general ideas for this project and conducted consultations with the customer, represented by the Navy. By now, all work has been completed. The results of the work were transferred to the relevant organizations of the fleet. They will have to evaluate the concept and decide its fate.

The proposed appearance of the AUV “Surrogate”. Graphics CDB MT “Rubin” /

The Surrogate project offers an AUV with a submarine imitation function. This product is approx. 17 m with a displacement of 40 tons with an electric power plant that provides acceleration to 24 knots and an economic speed of 5 knots at a range of 600 miles. Diving depth – 600 m. Duration of work – up to 15-17 hours.

The Surrogate must carry a variety of external antennas and towed devices. With their help, the AUV will be able to simulate the physical fields of a real submarine. Depending on the composition and mode of operation of such equipment, the device should replace a real nuclear submarine or diesel-electric submarine of one type or another. It is also possible to install other equipment, for example, for reconnaissance or mapping.

The main task of the AUV “Surrogate” is to replace real submarines in the exercises of anti-submarine forces. The appearance of such an apparatus will make it possible not to involve real submarines in the work, which will simplify and reduce the cost of training activities. The risks for all participants in the maneuvers should also be reduced.

Application of the “Surrogate”. Graphics CDB MT “Rubin” /

According to the latest news, “Surrogate” stopped at the stage of theoretical study, and its further fate depends on the interest of the Navy. If the fleet desires such a complex, CDB MT “Rubin” will carry out the project. In addition, in the past, the development organization did not rule out the possibility of foreign orders.

Promising direction

The current level of technology development makes it possible to create completely autonomous devices of various kinds, incl. designed to work underwater. Russian design organizations have been mastering this direction for a long time, which has already resulted in a wide range of various AUVs for various purposes. Some of these developments have already reached acceptance for the supply of the Navy, while others are just preparing for this.

The current orders of the Russian Navy provide for the creation, construction and supply of vehicles for all major areas. Reconnaissance AUVs, multipurpose and combat ones, have already been received or are expected. While such equipment remains few in number, however, its total number is gradually growing in accordance with the needs of the fleet. In the foreseeable future, with the completion of work on a number of important projects, the situation will seriously change – as a result of this, both promising means of conducting underwater reconnaissance and fundamentally new systems for strategic nuclear forces will appear in the ranks.

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