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Northrop Grumman Team Selected to Evaluate Supercavitation-Based Underwater Naval Transport


11/17/2006
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Nov. 17, 2006 -- A team led by Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has won a $5.4 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to determine the feasibility of using supercavitation technology for stable, controllable, high-speed underwater transport.

The Underwater Express program is a DARPA technology research and evaluation program to establish the potential of a new technology. Supercavitation creates a gas cavity between the vehicle surface and the water, thereby reducing drag and increasing vehicle speed. The program's ultimate goal is a new class of underwater craft for littoral missions that can transport small groups of Navy personnel or specialized military cargo at speeds up to 100 knots.

In Phase 1 of the contract, which will last for 13 months, Northrop Grumman and its teammates will establish the technology basis for supercavitation transport through a series of testing and modeling activities, and produce a concept design for an underwater demonstrator vehicle.

Most of the work will be divided between Northrop Grumman's Undersea Systems facility in Annapolis, Md., and Pennsylvania State University's Applied Research Laboratory in State College, Pa. Other organizations contributing to the team include the University of Minnesota, the University of Maryland, the Navy's Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I., and BBN Technologies of Cambridge, Mass.

"Supercavitation technology has great potential to increase the speed of underwater vehicles," said John Golombeck, vice president of Naval and Surface Systems for Northrop Grumman's Systems Development and Technology business unit. "By drawing on university research into supercavitation physics and adapting this technology for real-world use, we are opening up new naval transport opportunities."

The contract comes with two 15-month options. Phase 2, worth up to $17 million, would include continued technology research at a larger scale and establish the detailed design of the demonstrator vehicle. Phase 3, worth up to $23.4 million, would include building a Demonstration Super-fast Supercavitating Transport (DSST) vehicle which would operate at 100 knots for durations of up to 10 minutes. The potential value of all three phases is $45.8 million.

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a $30 billion global defense and technology company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in information and services, electronics, aerospace and shipbuilding to government and commercial customers worldwide.


GD wins Underwater Express contract

General Dynamics Electric Boat has been awarded a $5.7 million contract to support development of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)Underwater Express, an undersea transport capable of controllable speeds up to 100 knots through supercavitation. Electric Boat is a wholly owned subsidiary of General Dynamics (NYSE: GD).

The DARPA-funded Underwater Express effort will help determine the feasibility of supercavitation technology to enable a new class of high-speed underwater craft for future littoral missions that could involve the transport of high-value cargo and/or small units of personnel. Supercavitation involves surrounding an object with a bubble that allows it to travel at high speed. This contract contains two options, which if exercised, would bring the cumulative potential value of this contract to $37.1 million.

Supercavitation offers 60-70% reduction in total drag, or over 90% reduction in skin friction, on an underwater body. It can be attained by going fast enough to develop a full vaporous cavity, or it can be induced at lower speeds by ventilating, i.e., injecting gas, into a partially-developed cavity. Although the technology has been applied to weapons with minimal control capability, its application to larger vessels with transport missions will require thorough development. DARPA's goal is to achieve tractable management and control of the dynamics of a supercavitating underwater body so that an eventual system, manned or unmanned, could be envisioned to travel in this state.


The best known current application of supercavitation is Russia's Shkval torpedo.

The Underwater Express Program will demonstrate stable and controllable high-speed underwater transport through supercavitation. The program will investigate and resolve critical technological issues associated with the physics of supercavitation and will culminate in a credible demonstration at a significant scale to prove that a supercavitating underwater craft is controllable at speeds up to 100 knots.
 

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