Australia is seeking to build “a new autonomous robotic undersea warfare capability,” Minister for Defence Peter Dutton said on Thursday, announcing a new program to develop underwater drones for the navy. The same day, Dutton warned that Australia must “prepare for war.”
The project will be co-funded by the Defence Ministry and Australian subsidiary of Anduril, a US-headquartered company working in the autonomous warfare field.
“Defence and Anduril Australia will co-fund a program to design, develop and manufacture Extra Large Autonomous Undersea Vehicles (XLAUV) in Australia for capability assessment and prototyping,” Dutton said in a statement.
The submarine drones are expected to “complement and enhance the agility and potency of the navy’s current submarine and surface combatant force” in the Indo-Pacific region, the official explained. The vessels are also expected to provide the force with “innovative mission options” as they would become a “disruptive and difficult undersea problem” for any adversary.
The research and development program is expected to run over the course of the next three years, yielding three drone submarine prototypes and, ultimately, “resulting in a manufacture ready XLAUV”, Dutton said. While the minister did not provide any cost estimates for the program, local media suggested it will require a AU$2 billion Australian dollars (US$1.4 billion) investment.Apart from developing the subsurface drones, the Australian military is also set to procure US-made Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) Block 2, Dutton said in a separate statement. It is a modern naval anti-aircraft missile, designed specifically to intercept supersonic maneuvering anti-ship missiles, as well as other aerial targets.
The first batch of missiles have already arrived in Australia for “initial integration and testing purposes,” according to the minister. They will be used by Australian surface naval vessels.