To date, in the interests of the armed forces in our country, several autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles (AUVs) of different shapes with different capabilities have been developed. Now the accumulated experience and mastered technologies are planned to be used in civilian industries. For this purpose, a multipurpose platform apparatus "Sarma" is being developed. The project has already reached the construction of the first prototype, which will begin testing this year.
Work on the Sarma theme started in 2018 at the initiative of the Advanced Research Fund (FPI). The goal of this program is to search for the necessary technologies and solutions with the subsequent development of a multipurpose autonomous submarine platform. Such equipment is planned to be used to support the activities of the Northern Sea Route and for the development of the Arctic as a whole.
On the instructions of the FPI, the new AUV should be a multipurpose platform-carrier of special equipment, adapted to work in high latitudes. A high autonomy of equipment is required: the device must operate under ice for at least three months without the need for refueling and ascent.
The contract for the execution of works on "Sarma" was received by the Central Design Bureau "Lazurit" and the Concern East Kazakhstan region "Almaz-Antey". These organizations have the requisite design experience and the required production capacity. In addition, for a more efficient solution of the assigned tasks, a separate laboratory was organized at Lazurit with the assistance of the FPI.
Already in 2018, the project participants determined the approximate appearance of the future apparatus and drew up a work schedule. In 2020, it was planned to manufacture and test several technology demonstrators. In the future, new prototypes were to appear, including a full-size prototype.
The main provisions of the new project have already been determined, and on their basis a prototype of "Sarma" has been developed. Currently, the development enterprises are building the first prototype, and its delivery is scheduled for this year. In addition, a full-size split AUV model is being manufactured. In early July, it will be shown at the Innoprom-2021 exhibition in Yekaterinburg.
Earlier it was reported that the prototype under construction this year will go to sea trials. The checks will be carried out in the waters of the White Sea - as close as possible to the future area of operation. How long the testing of the first sample will last is unknown.
Next year, the construction of a new type of lead AUV will start. In 2023, he will receive all the necessary devices and assemblies, after which he will be able to go for tests, and then go into full-fledged operation. In the absence of serious difficulties at the next stages, the serial production of Sarma products can be launched in 2024. Accordingly, the serial equipment will enter the Northern Sea Route in the middle of the decade.
Opportunities and challenges
The FPI and the developers have revealed the general appearance of the future Sarma apparatus and the expected level of performance. Also named are the main technical tasks of the project and the expected difficulties that must be overcome to complete the work.
According to published materials, outwardly the product "Sarma" will look like a torpedo of large dimensions, although its dimensions have not yet been specified.Used a cylindrical body with a hemispherical head and propellers / water cannon in an annular channel. Provides for the use of horizontal rudders and thrusters inside the hull.
Modular architecture is proposed and implemented. First of all, such capabilities will be used in the context of the payload. The new AUV will have to transport various cargoes or tools to solve certain problems. "Sarma" will be able to conduct scientific research of various kinds, conduct searches, inspect and maintain underwater objects, etc. Any weapons or the possibility of installing them are not provided for - this device has a purely civilian purpose.
One of the main tasks is to create a power plant that meets the requirements. Back in 2018, it was announced that an air-independent power plant with high efficiency rates would be developed for Sarma. This will allow the vehicle to operate under water for several months without access to atmospheric air and without refueling, providing itself and the payload.
Later reports mentioned the use of electrochemical generators. Reagents for their operation will be stored and supplied by a cryogenic system. More precise information, such as the design of the generators or the reagents used, was not specified. According to calculations, such a power plant has acceptable dimensions and weight, and is also capable of providing autonomy up to 90 days. The cruising range at one refueling will exceed 8, 5 thousand km at a speed of no more than a few knots.
A completely autonomous control system is being developed for the apparatus, capable of operating without any human intervention. It must ensure movement along a given route, taking into account the arising obstacles and factors; she is also required to be able to manage the installed payload. Perhaps the most advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence, will be required to create such a system. The open architecture of the software package can be used to connect additional devices.
One of the most difficult tasks of the Sarma project is to provide navigation. A new navigation system is being created for the AUV, which can operate autonomously and without external signals. It should show increased accuracy of calculations, regardless of the duration of the voyage and the distance traveled.
Technology of the future
For the coming months, the main task of the FPI, the Lazurit Central Design Bureau and the Almaz-Antey Concern East Kazakhstan region is to complete the construction of the first experimental apparatus. Then the prototype of "Sarma" will be released for testing, during which it will confirm the operability of the selected technical solutions and demonstrate the calculated characteristics.
Already in 2023-24. it is planned to build a full-size AUV, suitable for mounting a real target load. This stage of the Sarma program is of great interest not only from a scientific and technical point of view, but also from an operational and economic point of view. Based on its results, the issue of the device's compliance with requirements and expectations will finally be clarified.
Also by 2024-25. the circle of potential customers for new equipment will be determined. According to the plans of the developers, AUV "Sarma" can be used by organizations providing shipping, oil and gas enterprises, research structures, etc. Each operator will be able to establish the required payload and solve the task before him.
The project has not even reached the test yet, but its authors are already looking into the distant future. On the basis of Sarma's technologies and ideas, other AUVs can be developed, incl. large and heavy, with increased characteristics of autonomy.However, such samples will appear only in the distant future and only if there is interest from customers.
For war and for peace
The Russian industry has long been engaged in the topic of autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles, and to date, a number of similar military projects have been created. Various types of equipment are offered for patrolling and observation, for searching for underwater objects, and even for supporting naval exercises. The Poseidon project is especially famous - a device with unique running characteristics with a nuclear warhead on board. This technique is planned to be commissioned in the near future.
Due to military projects, the industry has accumulated the necessary experience and is now ready to create new apparatus for civilian structures. The first sample of this kind, created on the initiative of the FPI, will go to sea this year, and in a few years it will be able to start work on the Northern Sea Route. If the Sarma project is completed with the required results, fundamentally new opportunities await science and a number of economic sectors. Thus, the most modern developments will almost simultaneously find application in the military and civilian spheres with understandable beneficial consequences.