Designed to operate below the water’s surface in both littoral (coastal) areas and the open sea, Autonomous UUVs have no crew aboard and are capable of carrying out missions using a mix of reconfigurable pre-programmed instructions, sensor-responsive directives, and, when near the surface, GPS navigation. They are similar to Remotely-Operated Underwater Vehicles (ROVs), but ROVs are piloted by a human on another nearby water craft via a tether, while Autonomous UUVs operate independent of a human pilot, so there is no tether. These unmanned submersibles simply perform their assigned mission, then return to pre-programmed coordinates with no human intervention.

Although UUVs have existed since the late 1950s, initially for marine exploration and research, their evolution escalated when put to use helping nuclear submarines (SSN) examine areas too shallow for them to traverse, as well as detecting sea mines without risking submarines and the lives of their crews. While ROVs gained notoriety for helping find and explore major 20th century shipwrecks, Autonomous UUVs have seen significant growth across defense, research, and commercial markets in parallel with their increasing depth, range, endurance, and speed performance, as well as improvements in sensor and autonomy technologies. More advanced recent Autonomous UUV designs also offer increased flexibility of use, more efficient power systems, and lower implementation and sustainability costs.

As a result, uses and applications of Autonomous UUVs from different business sectors today include:

  • Defense and Intelligence. From remote mine hunting, underwater explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), and advanced submarine development to shallow water C4ISR sensor deployment, battlespace reconnaissance, undersea mapping, emerging threat response, and more, development of Autonomous UUVs continues to grow across multiple defense and intelligence communities.
  • Research. For remote climate and environmental monitoring, weather pattern tracking and reporting, collection of deep water biodiversity samples, post-event oil and gas testing, and more, Autonomous UUVs make it safer, less costly, and more productive than ever to access great depths, disputed waters, polluted oceans, and archeologically-significant discoveries.
  • Commercial Ventures. Especially as upfront costs of Autonomous UUVs fall, their commercial uses grow, including remote docking security, off shore wind farm maintenance, trans-oceanic search and rescue/recovery, marine facilities monitoring, offshore oil, gas, and mining exploration, fish farm aquaculture testing, recreational environment monitoring, and more.

These uses that leverage Autonomous UUVs’ broad adaptability, increasing affordability, and growing capabilities assure that the number of ways they are used will continue to escalate.


This information page is provided as a service to our readers by BAE Systems, Inc., a U.S.-based world leader in aerospace, defense, power, and intelligence solutions. Learn more about us here.

Space Products

Electronic Systems

Learn more about our products and services.
Read more