LONDON — BAE Systems is partnering with Canadian company Cellula Robotics to showcase its extra-large autonomous underwater vehicle in the U.K. next year, the British firm announced Tuesday.

As the undersea battlespace matures, some companies are looking to speed up the development of uncrewed platforms that can work in tandem with crewed vessels to cover larger surface areas, or serve as smaller alternatives to submarines to carry out covert operations.

Among these is BAE Systems’ maritime services division, which last year launched its Herne extra-large autonomous underwater vehicle after noticing a market availability gap in this platform size.

The Herne was designed so users could launch and recover it in several ways, including from harbors, ships or submarines. It can perform anti-submarine warfare; electronic warfare; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, according to BAE Systems’ website.

“Today, [about] 40 countries have in their naval forces submarines, and several others are looking to expand their activities and/or their fleet,” Scott Jamieson, managing director at the maritime services division, told reporters during a panel at the DSEI exhibition in London on Sept. 12.

As the average global temperature continues to rise, the melting of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean has opened up opportunities for countries to assert their military and commercial control. In light of this, the company announced it would cooperate with Cellula Robotics to launch a Herne demonstrator in British waters in September 2024.

“Recent acts of sub-sea aggression highlight the strategic importance of the underwater domain, the need to protect the critical national infrastructure within it and the inherent challenges,” BAE’s site said. “The demonstrator project, will test the ‘brains’ of the BAE Systems military XLAUV on one of Cellula Robotics’ underwater vehicles in trials set to take place next year at a facility on the south coast of England.”

When asked by Defense News whether he is hopeful the U.K. would be an eventual launch customer for the system, Jamieson said the business would be “delighted.”

In terms of where the Herne could be built, BAE Systems officials said they are open to localizing part of the production and would have the capability to manufacture it in the U.K. if it’s requested.

Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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