Pulse news magazine

Volume 28, February 2020

Into the deep

Unmanned, underwater vehicles are essentially miniature, self-driving submarines.

Just east of our new BAE Systems office in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the chilly Atlantic waves slap the shores of Kingston Bay. 

Inside, you'll find our Riptide team enthusiastically discussing everything from water depths and ocean tides, to complex undersea mission system payloads. A small crew is preparing to head out into the icy bay to drop a self-driving submarine into the surf. One day, this underwater vehicle could save a service member's life.

In June 2019, BAE Systems welcomed Riptide through an acquisition, with the goal of coupling its unmanned underwater vehicles, or UUVs, with maritime mission systems being developed by our FAST Labs™ R&D arm and C4ISR Systems business area. These mission systems provide UUVs with capabilities like autonomy, navigation, communications, sensor processing, electronic warfare, and more. Illustrating the invaluable nature of the partnership to the company and those we serve, Electronic Systems President Terry Crimmins said, "Adding Riptide's technological capabilities will position us to provide customers unmatched flexibility by offering a family of UUVs and integrated payload solutions capable of supporting a variety of critical missions."

The platforms

To put it simply, unmanned, underwater vehicles are essentially miniature, self-driving submarines. They can perform important jobs in the deep, without putting our service members at risk. When asked what makes these platforms unique, former Riptide CEO Jeff Smith said, "Our Riptide UUVs are developed with mechanically and electrically efficient architectures that greatly simplify the design of the vehicles. This architecture makes the vehicle highly scalable and flexible, as well as highly affordable compared to competing platforms." All of these features allow for more effective platforms that can undertake new missions, do more, and go deeper to make our harbors, our oceans, and our service members safer.

The technologies

While the UUVs are vessels that provide mobility, the mission computers that we're adding to them are like drivers, or brains. The brain decides where the vessel should go, what it should observe, and who to communicate with – but that's just one small piece of what it can do. As leaders in systems engineering, we're developing system architectures to meet various growing customer needs.

Ron Carvalho, FAST Labs program director, explains, "By combining our group's military experiences and understanding of current threats, and looking at the new technologies coming out of FAST Labs, we're able to come up with innovative solutions and propose those to the customer." When discussing the challenging environment that subsea systems must operate in, Ron says, "Sound doesn't travel in a straight line, and light doesn't penetrate too far. It's cold; it's dark; it's deep. There's a lot of pressure. It's just physically difficult and truly challenging, but that's the reason we work at BAE Systems. We don't take the easy missions – we take the hard ones."

Expanding into new markets

By designing customizable technology for our Riptide UUVs, we're able to address rapidly expanding maritime mission requirements, thus opening up opportunities in new markets for BAE Systems. We're opening our doors to new technologies, new team members, and new business. Our integration with Riptide enables us to supply both the platform and payload technology to our customers, who are increasingly looking for vertically integrated solutions. Uses for our UUVs and sensor packages include both commercial and military, for tasks like seabed surveillance, harbor protection, intelligence collection, infrastructure surveillance, oil and gas survey, and mine countermeasures.

Disruption in the deep

A company that began in January of 2015 with just 3 people, Riptide Autonomous Solutions quickly made waves as a market disruptor in the growing field of unmanned undersea vehicles. A large part of FAST Labs' business strategy is to acquire and incubate small business innovations that can yield disruptive technology breakthroughs for BAE Systems programs of record. While the FAST Labs team works to mature Riptide's platform technology and scale manufacturing production, our advanced electronics teams within FAST Labs and C4ISR Systems are hard at work pushing the boundaries of our mission system technologies. By pairing our cutting edge technologies with Riptide UUVs, we're working together to help transform the underwater market and improve subsea operations for those we serve.

Capabilities at a glance
  • Active acoustics – Compact, high-power low- and mid-frequency transducers and arrays for active acoustic target detection and tracking.
  • Acoustic and RF communications – Technology that sends, receives, and monitors both RF and acoustic underwater communications.
  • Acoustic IFF – Acoustic Identification Friend or Foe features enable identification of friendly forces and allows the user to make informed decisions in critical situations.
  • Autonomy – At the very core of every tailorable payload combination, our mission computer offers autonomy capabilities that allow the UUV to function and make decisions.
  • Navigation – In addition to standard navigation sensors and techniques, novel approaches to navigation support low-power UUV transit.
  • RF EW – Radiofrequency electronic warfare, including next generation electronic support, protection, and attack capabilities.
  • Sensor processing – Intelligent processing of available data enhances mission effectiveness.
  • SIGINT – Signals intelligence systems that enable insight into adversaries' actions by collecting and analyzing electronic signals.
By Holly Strand, Communications, Nashua, New Hampshire
Combining best-in-class hydrodynamics, ultra-low power processing, and new energy technologies, BAE Systems brings next-generation capability to the autonomous UUV market.

Riptide family of autonomous undersea vehicles

BAE Systems' Riptide family of autonomous undersea vehicles can be easily and affordably scaled and customized to solve undersea challenges.
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