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Unmanned Vehicle Development Spreads to Underwater and AlumiFuel Power

Over the last ten years the U.S. military along with many other nations’ defense establishments have invested billions in developing and producing a variety of unmanned ground and air vehicles. Now the U.S. Navy is looking to do the same for submersible systems. Certainly advanced torpedoes are already wired guided and in a way this is similar to early unmanned ground vehicles which relied on wire and command guidance. More advanced USV will be able to carry out Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions and eventually attack targets. These are missions now carried out by submarines or small boats.

AlumiFuel Power Corporation announced recently that they have been given a contract by the U.S. Navy to develop fuel cell technology to power advanced USV. This will use hydrogen in a Air Independent Power (AIP) system. Fuel cells using hydrogen have already been developed to provide auxiliary power and electricity for larger submarines. These plants though are not powerful enough to be the only source of propulsion for a ship of that size.

AlumiFuel’s contract is for the first phase of research to see if a re-fuelable system is able to be developed along with its partner Ingenium Technologies. Ingenium has designed the fuel cell power system and AlumiFuel will integrate their hydrogen powered cartridge based concept into it.

One of the big advantages of unmanned systems is their ability to perform missions much longer then a typical manned system. In order to do this reliable power plants are needed and since air based systems are not feasible underwater an AIP system needs to be used. This could be battery powered, nuclear or as in this case relying on fuel cells. The U.S. Navy has used advanced batteries and “stored chemical energy propulsion systems” on their newer torpedoes. In some ways this research is an extension of that.

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