NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Two defense companies separated by vast stretches of water are collaborating on drone boats capable of spotting submarines.

U.S.-based Saildrone and Thales Australia, a division of France-based Thales Group, on April 8 said they would outfit the former’s Surveyor unmanned surface vessels with the latter’s BlueSentry towed arrays capable of detecting and classifying crafts on or below the waves.

The announcement coincided with the start of the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference here.

The Department of Defense has long sought an unmanned or autonomous ability to surveil stealthy submersibles; DARPA, for example, more than a decade ago launched the Anti-Submarine Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel effort. Navy leadership has since advocated for a hybrid fleet, with sailors and Marines augmented by smart machines and the equipment they carry.

Defense News last year reported the Navy pictured its manned-unmanned fleet maturing in three phases: prototyping and experimenting from fiscal 2024 to 2028; buying and using in fiscal 2029 through 2033; and becoming fully operational in the years thereafter.

Troy Stephen, vice president of underwater systems at Thales Australia and New Zealand, in a statement said the Surveyor “offers a unique capability within the field of USVs,” adding that his team looks forward to contributing to its “impressive maritime domain awareness” capabilities. Maritime domain awareness provides a deep understanding of the potential repercussions of what’s happening on, below or near the water.

“Thales Australia has a proud history of exporting specialized sonar and acoustic products in support of one of our closest allies, the United States,” Stephen said. “Over two decades, these products have spanned the fields of seismic survey to mine warfare and, more recently, surface ship anti-submarine warfare.”

A Surveyor USV weighs 15 tons and stretches 65 feet. It sports an aluminum hull and keel manufactured by Austal USA.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti and Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Christopher Mahoney viewed Surveyor construction last month during shipbuilding tours along the Gulf Coast.

“Using unmanned assets helps put more players on the field by freeing up manned assets for more specific and important tasks,” Franchetti said in a statement at the time. “It’s good to see high tech industry partnering with the traditional shipbuilding industrial base to rapidly deliver cutting-edge products at scale.”

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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