March 16, 2023 · 🇦🇺 Dispatch Combat UUV MIW

AUKUS Augmented: AUVs, Mines for the RAN


Given the lengthy AUKUS timetable, and the increasingly contentious Indo-Pacific security environment, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) may look to autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), in combination with offensive mine warfare, to hedge against delivery delays and interim undersea warfare capability gaps.

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN), through its partnership with Trusted Autonomous Systems, a Defense Cooperative Research Center, is currently seeking to acquire a fleet of extra-large autonomous underwater vehicles (XL-AUVs).

The RAN could also seek to acquire a COTS LD-AUV, such as the Kongsberg Hugin Endurance.

Both the United States and United Kingdom have indigenous XL-AUV platforms under development, which could mature before the early 2030s, when the first Virginia-class boats are due to enter RAN service.

LD and XL-AUVs are largely unproven in naval operations, and their future remains largely undefined and uncertain.

To bolster its sea denial capability, the RAN is also seeking to acquire an inventory of "smart" sea mines, allocating up to A$1 billion for the purchase of an unknown quantity from an undisclosed European manufacturer. Three potential sources are RMV Italia, a unit of Rheinmetall, DA-Group of Finland, and Forcit Defence, also of Finland. A third company, SH Defense of Denmark, could also be in the mix.

AUKUS is a landmark agreement for Australian national security, but it is accompanied by several risks - political (domestic, regional, global), budgetary, and economic - and will require decades to be fully realized. During that period, China's naval expansion and aggressive maritime operations in the Indo-Pacific region will likely intensify. The RAN intends to acquire advanced sea mines, which would bolster its sea denial capability and also act as a hedge against AUKUS-driven risks. The RAN may seek to further hedge these risks by investing in a fleet of AUVs (XL or LD), which could serve both as sensor nodes within a wide-area ISR network, thereby expanding the RAN's situational awareness, and as kinetic effectors to deter PLAN maritime aggression.


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