The Navy's $43 million contract with Boeing to produce the Orca attack drone is proceeding as planned, with the critical design review having recently been completed and construction now under way, Capt. Pete Small, programme manager of unmanned systems for the Navy's Sea Systems Command said at a Navy symposium, Warrior Maven has reported.
According to the defence news website, once complete, the 50-tonne vessels, packed with the latest sensors and large enough to carry an array of weapons, will provide the USN with "an unprecedented sensing, endurance and attack advantage".
Details on the specifications of the drone are scarce, but Orca's Echo Voyager cousin, built on the same platform, is 84-feet-long, has advanced sonar, obstacle avoidance and autonomous buoyancy systems. According to data from Boeing, the Echo Ranger is capable of diving up to 11,000 feet below the water, and has a range of up to 6,500 nautical miles.
Orcas are expected to be capable of operating in coordination with the manned surface ships controlling them, providing them with forward defence against enemy mines, subs and other threats. According to the US Naval Institute, once deployed, Orcas will be capable of destroying sea mines, subs, surface ships, conducting electronic warfare, and even launching nuclear weapons.
According to Warrior Maven, the Orca will probably be too large to be launched from a ship or submarine, given existing technology and equipment, launching from docks instead.
Boeing plans to deliver the Orcas to the Navy by 2022.