A new study published today by analysts Douglas-Westwood “The AUV Gamechanger Report 2008- 2017” forecasts that over 900 Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) will be required over the next decade at a cost of some $1.8 billion – and the biggest buyer will be the military.
Speaking at the UUVS conference in Southampton, UK, today, John Westwood, Douglas-Westwood MD said that over 400 AUVs of 105 different models have been built to date. “However, developments in IT and power systems, together with many years accumulated experience of operating tethered remotely operated vehicles are having transformational impact.
“The market drivers have also changed. The focus of the world’s major naval powers and their contractors has moved from cold war submarine cat and mouse games in ‘blue water’ to the littoral waters of local conflicts and the major business opportunities presented by the ‘war on terror’ driving a need for AUVs in mine counter measures and security work.
“In the civil sector, depletion of shallow-water offshore oil & gas reserves of the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico has forced the oil & gas companies to move into deep waters and into seeking new enabling technologies. AUVs are now in demand for mapping the seabed for deepwater oil installations.
“Amongst the research community the need to understand the role of the oceans in the equation of climate change has universal acknowledgement. And then of course there is the bottom line – a massive growth in demand has not only increased support ship costs dramatically but also those of the essential underwater operations personnel. Technological capability and market need are now building on each other to drive demand.
The Present Fleet
Lead researcher on the study, Paul Newman said “With a population of 169 vehicles, ‘survey’ forms the largest AUV application for the existing fleet of AUVs. However, the majority of the ‘survey’ AUVs are small vehicles used by the military for MCM surveys and do not carry the large sensor payload associated with commercial deepwater surveys. In reality, the ‘military’ usage is therefore much greater than the 112 vehicles indicated above.
“With 109 vehicles, ‘research’ is a large application and research organisations are major players in the AUV business, both as end-users and also in the development of vehicles and systems.
“The ‘inspection’, ‘work’ and ‘hybrid’ groups, to date only have small populations and these are mainly associated with the commercial oil & gas sector where use of AUVs is still a small apart from specific areas such as oil & gas industry deepwater survey.
A Growing Acceptance
“AUVs now have the potential to change the game in many areas of underwater operations. Long an area of research, AUVs are beginning to show their abilities as cost-effective tools in applications ranging from deepwater survey for the offshore oil & gas industry to military operations. The growing need for many facets of ocean observation also offers great potential for AUVs not only to enhance the performance of conventional ship-based operations, but also to operate in difficult-to-access areas such as below the arctic ice” said John Westwood.
“AUVs have now become accepted in a number of key tasks where they have been shown to be more cost effective than previous technology – one example is the success of AUVs in deepwater survey and military operations. The impact of such factors on a technology tends to be cumulative, we believe that acceptance will grow and drivers for this process will continue to strengthen.
“AUVs are not an answer to all underwater operations needs, but for some applications they offer great increases in cost effectiveness and true ‘force multiplication’ for the military and financial leverage for all sectors.”