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Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Design & Development for Effective Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Framework in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR)

Dr Cdr Arnab Das [Director, Maritime Research Center Pune]

The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is gaining substantial strategic relevance in the 21st century and increasing number of nations from within and also extra-regional powers are maintaining their strategic presence in the region. The rich undersea resources in the region is attracting varied global powers to deploy their strategic assets to lay claim to such resources. The maritime forces are also aggressively maintaining their strategic presence to safeguard their national interests. The sudden and unregulated rise in the maritime activities may cause serious damage to the marine ecosystem and also there is a fit case to ensure reliable systems for early warning of natural disasters. Science and technology will always remain the driver for sustainable development and thus efforts are required to understand the underwater domain to facilitate safe, secure, sustainable growth for all in the region.


Science and technology will always remain the driver for sustainable development and thus efforts are required to understand the underwater domain to facilitate safe, secure, sustainable growth for all in the region.


The Indian Ocean Region (IOR), presents unique challenges in the maritime domain pertaining to political, economic and technological considerations. The volatile political realities ensure lack of synergy among the nations, allowing extra-regional powers to meddle with the internal matters. The pre-modern states in the region with weak governance structures, allow the non-state actors to actively operate and disrupt peace and harmony. The socio-economic status of most of the nations in the region limits the size of the projects to allow use of state-of-the-art technology. Prioritizing environment and sustainable growth is a challenge due to the socio-economic priorities and political considerations. Science and technology has remained at the back burner as political and economic prioritising remained low. Sea blindness has been a major limitation among the policy makers and people at large, to be able to harness the massive opportunities that await us in the IOR. The tropical littoral waters further add to our technological challenges, due to sub-optimal performance of the sonars deployed for any underwater survey across stakeholders.


The Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Framework as proposed by the Maritime Research Centre (MRC), Pune is rightly placed to manage the challenges and opportunities in the IOR across the stakeholders.


The Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Framework as proposed by the Maritime Research Centre (MRC), Pune is rightly placed to manage the challenges and opportunities in the IOR across the stakeholders. The stakeholders include national security, blue economy, environment & disaster management and the science & technology providers. The UDA framework addresses all the three aspects of policy, technology & innovation and human resource development. The SAGAR vision of the Honourable Prime Minister can get effectively realised by appropriately prioritising the UDA framework in a comprehensive manner. The Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is of the order of 20.4 lakh square kms and UDA in such a huge area requires the right tools. Maritime Capability and Capacity building has probably waited too long and now, it is time that we aggressively pursue, policies and strategies to harness the maritime potential optimally.


The UDA framework depends on underwater survey capabilities and capacity.


The UDA framework depends on underwater survey capabilities and capacity. Acoustic survey is typically the de-facto tool given the advantage acoustic sensing has over all other techniques underwater. Optical, electro-magnetic and all other methods are extremely limited in the underwater domain due to high attenuation. The underwater survey primarily requires two components, the sensor and the platform which will ensure that the sensor reaches every nook and corner of the entire underwater domain. Autonomous and unmanned vehicles have proved their effectiveness for such applications. There is a need to explore the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) as a platform for underwater survey in the IOR, given its unique challenges and opportunities.


There is a need to explore the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) as a platform for underwater survey in the IOR, given its unique challenges and opportunities.

An AUV, is a self-propelled, unmanned, untethered underwater vehicle capable of being utilized as a survey platforms to map the seafloor or characterize physical, chemical, or biological properties of the water. The first AUV was developed by the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington as early as 1957. The "Special Purpose Underwater Research Vehicle", or SPURV, was used to study diffusion, acoustic transmission and submarine wakes. Acoustic signals from the accompanying research vessel guided SPURV in moving below the surface of the water. SPURV then generated models of underwater physical properties such as ocean currents and temperature.


AUVs are attractive options for effective UDA in the IOR:

  • They can reach shallower water than boats can and deeper water than human divers or many tethered vehicles can.

  • Once deployed and underwater, AUVs are safe from bad weather and can stay underwater for extended periods of time.

  • They are also scalable, or modular, meaning that scientists can choose which sensors to attach to them depending on their research objectives.

  • AUVs are also less expensive than research vessels, but they can complete identical repeat surveys of an area.


The design challenges in an AUV for ensuring optimum specifications in terms of operations, range, endurance and sensor use could be as follows:

  • Optimization of power and cost.

  • Total payload calculation.

  • Testing of AUV.

  • Collision avoidance.

  • Monitoring the position of AUV.

  • Procedure in case of failure (overheating, water seepage, etc.).

The IOR has specific urgent requirements for deploying AUVs for effective realization of the UDA framework. There is certainly an urgent requirement to build core capability in AUV design and development. These are application specific as listed below:

  • Underwater Search and Rescue.

  • Oceanographic data gathering.

  • Ambient noise monitoring for effective sensor deployment.

  • Underwater channel modelling.

  • Underwater surveillance for military purpose.

  • Marine environment monitoring.


The lack of such specialized UDA capabilities are proving to be expensive in terms of inefficient and ineffective deployment of underwater resources for varied missions including underwater exploration and exploitations.


The national science and technology focus needs to urgently initiate programs for AUV design and development. The lack of such specialized UDA capabilities are proving to be expensive in terms of inefficient and ineffective deployment of underwater resources for varied missions including underwater exploration and exploitations. The stakeholders need to come together and invest to build this capability. The involvement of young India in this direction is extremely critical and for that massive awareness campaigns are required right from policy makers, stakeholders, practitioners and the academia. There is a fit case to launch an AUV competition at the student level to encourage participation by the young generation and also build capability and capacity through crowd sourcing of ideas for national requirement.

India needs to develop these core capabilities for effective UDA framework not just for its own requirement, but also as a diplomatic tool to engage with the nations in the IOR. Science & technology will always be a driver for safe, secure, sustainable growth for all in the region and this will allow effective realization of the SAGAR vision by the Honourable Prime Minister. The aggressive Chinese influence among the nations in the IOR can only be effectively countered, if we are able to build technological superiority. The AUV design and development is a single science and technology break through that can demonstrate our superiority among our neighbours in the IOR.

Multiple aspects of this study were undertaken at MRC, Pune as part of a summer internship project by Ms. Aruneema Deshmukh from BITS Pilani, during her six weeks attachment. She was ably supported by Mr. Shridhar Prabhuraman, research coordinator at MRC. The details of her findings are available at (Webpage | Research Note )