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Boeing adds to its undersea vehicles squad

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The Echo Seeker is on display at the Boeing Huntington Beach facility on Thursday, March 10. )
(Scott Smeltzer / HB Independent)

The Boeing Co. has unveiled at its Huntington Beach facility an autonomous, unmanned undersea vehicle that can be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Sea trials off California will begin this summer for the 51-foot Echo Voyager, the latest in Boeing’s undersea vehicle family.

Echo Voyager can support a modular payload of up to 30 feet long and operate at a maximum depth of 11,000 feet for up to three months at a time thanks to a hybrid rechargeable power system and modular payload bay.

Previous undersea vehicles from Boeing could operate on their own for only two to three days at a time.

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The new vessel follows the 18-foot-long Echo Ranger and 32-foot long Echo Seeker, which were introduced in 2001 and 2015, respectively.

Unlike its predecessors, the Echo Voyager can make its journey and collect data without the use of a surface ship for launch and recovery.

Lance Towers, director of sea and land at Boeing Phantom Works, a research division of Boeing, said the Echo Voyager uses software similar to that of the Echo Ranger and Echo Seeker.

“We’re very confident in our software,” he said March 10 during a media event introducing the vessel, which has been in development for a few years. “We’ve reused the things that have been validated. Inventing something new, you add an element of risk.”

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The unmanned Echo Voyager knows how to go around objects, how to take and store data, and how to communicate via satellite in a near real-time environment, Towers said.

He said the vehicle, which weighs about 50 tons without a payload, is appealing for a variety of international and commercial customers, as well as organizations like the U.S. Navy. About half a dozen potential customers have already inquired about it, he said.

Echo Voyager can be used for surveillance, radiation detection, water sampling, oil and gas exploration and sonar surveys of large areas of the sea floor, said Boeing spokeswoman Cheryl Sampson.

Echo Ranger was used by oil and gas companies to survey the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. The National Oceananic and Atmospheric Administration used it to assess fisheries off Catalina Island and do a survey of the USS Independence, a World War II aircraft carrier that was scuttled in 1951 off the Farallon Islands near San Francisco.

The latest vessel is ideal for treacherous missions, Towers said.

“We want to establish this kind of a capability to offload those dangerous missions and anywhere you don’t need to have a human in the loop,” he said. “There are a lot of missions like that.… We’re very excited for what we’ve developed here.”


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