Blackfish: Three Decades In The Making Redefining Low-Cost Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
Lockheed Martin’s Marion, Massachusetts facility has been developing and building small A-size (4 7/8- in. Diameter, 36-in. Length) autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) for over 35 years. The A-size form factor has been and will continue to be extremely utilitarian, as it dramatically increases the number of potential deployment mechanisms available to the end-user beyond simple hand delivery. As the size is identical to standard sonobuoy devices, vehicles can be launched from standard sonobuoy launchers on board a wide array of fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft as well as submarines and surface vessels.
Expendable Mobile ASW Training Target.
Since the early 1980s, Lockheed Martin has been the primary supplier of Expendable Mobile Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Training Targets (EMATTs) to over 20 nations, delivering over 40,000 systems to date for air-launch, surface-launch, and subsurface-launch applications. Understanding that the true value to the customer is in the quality of data acquired, the design of the EMATT has been optimized for training purposes, resulting in a vehicle that is inherently expendable and does not require the user to spend valuable time and resources executing recovery efforts. This optimization was enabled through initial efforts to drive unit price down through a combination of Design for Manufacturing (DFM) techniques and lean production flow.
To accomplish this, Lockheed Martin has implemented a manufacturing capability that provides our customers with the highest quality product at the lowest possible cost. We maintain a highly trained and flexible work force that allows Lockheed Martin to provide a diverse portfolio of products to our customers, maintaining flexible support systems that allow for product tailoring based on customer feedback and mission requirements.
Lockheed Martin has developed all of the production processes and tooling required to produce large numbers of A-size vehicles and is currently in full-rate production, producing vehicles for two dozen nations. These standardized processes include assembly, test, and inspection from material receipt to final product acceptance. As would be expected for any product suitable for military use, all processes and procedures are fully documented with well-defined step-by-step procedures to fabricate the vehicles in accordance with the engineering drawings, associated quality controls in place to define the process for inspection where required, and test instructions to define the necessary factory test process. All manufacturing documentation is controlled through a rigorous configuration management process that ensures consistent production of each individual vehicle. Through years of optimization and production flow modifications, the resulting production line is scalable with production throughput capability currently in excess of 2,500 vehicles per year.
Although Lockheed Martin has been building A-size AUVs continuously for over 35 years, we had been focused on a single mission, continuously refining the vehicle to reduce cost, but at the expense of mission flexibility and modularity. Several years ago, however, that approach was modified, taking into account the high volume production line, standardized manufacturing processes, and mature supply chain. The result was a new concept for a multi-purpose vehicle that leverages the lessons learned and experience gained from 40,000 fielded systems.
The idea of a multi-purpose underwater vehicle is certainly nothing new, especially with the proliferation of vehicle types over the past decade and the exponential increase in undersea mission requirements over that same period. Unfortunately, in most cases, the complexity and size of the required sensor packages has also resulted in AUVs becoming synonymous with being expensive or cost prohibitive. There must, therefore, be a place for a smaller platform that can accomplish a variety mission components at a fraction of the cost.
Production EMATTs and First BlackFish Prototype.
The BlackFish is Lockheed Martin’s latest iteration of a mission-reconfigurable vehicle based on generations of field-hardened products combined with state-of-the-art technologies. From concept inception, the BlackFish Design Team had several key underlying requirements from which they could not deviate:
• Vehicle must remain A-size, capable to being shipped and launched from standard Sonobuoy Launch Containers (SLCs);
• Vehicle must be suitable for air-launch, surface-launch, and subsurface-launch applications;
• Vehicle must be user reconfigurable; and
• Vehicle must be comparable in price to existing EMATT vehicles when configured for ASW training missions.
These four simple requirements ensured that throughout the systems engineering and design phases, key characteristics of the vehicle would be constant while other design attributes and capabilities would be variable, allowing for a wide range of innovative configurations while still staying true to the overall end goal.
Comprising two major sections, the BlackFish leverages capabilities from across Lockheed Martin, including the Missiles and Fire Control (MFC), Advanced Technology Labs (ATL), and C4ISR and Undersea Systems (C4USS) organizations.
The standard aft section of the vehicle includes three “pop-out” control fins, independently controlled by linear actuators; a ducted propulsion system; a multipurpose ceramic ring transducer paired with WHOI’s ìModem drive and processing electronics for acoustic communications; bathymetric sensors (temperature and sound velocity); base battery pack; guidance, navigation, and control suite; GPS receiver; and WiFi capability (Satellite Communications are available as an option). The navigation system leverages generations of proven low-cost navigators on Lockheed Martin missile programs and provides a flexible INS/GPS/ USBL/Terrain-aided navigation system with extensions to collaborative and relative navigation. Maintaining this array of sensors as a core set of components facilitates production flow efficiency while simultaneously reducing the resultant unit cost.
Mission execution capabilities are provided by an open architecture, extensible, MOOS-IvP-based autonomous controller with standard interfaces to the BlackFish lowlevel controllers. This flexible architecture allows for autonomy that is tailored to mission CONOPS, including the ability to override the base autonomous control with a payload-borne backseat driver operating over the same standard interface. An operator interface is provided for mission planning and mission monitoring, but plugins are available/planned for standard U.S. Navy user interfaces such as topside. Whereas the aft section of BlackFish is standardized and optimized for low cost, the forward payload section is reconfigurable by Lockheed Martin or the end user, utilizing a standard interface to the aft section for communication, data transfer, and power transfer. Various implementations of this section include side-scan sonar, thrusters for improved slow/zero speed maneuvers, additional battery modules for increased endurance, or any number of other sensors required for a given concept of operations.
Developed on the back of three decades of advanced development, low-cost production, and fielded test data, Lockheed Martin has extended the boundaries of the A-size vehicle. Whether the tasking centers on bathymetric surveys, infrastructure inspections, ASW training, or collaborative swarms of vehicles, BlackFish enables users to customize their product to fit their needs, increasing or decreasing inherent capabilities as required while utilizing a robust, quality-driven, costeffective product to complete their mission.