The UK Royal Navy (RN) has awarded a £15.4m contract to Plymouth-based company Marlin Submarines (MSubs) to construct the service’s first crewless submarine. 

The latest contract has been funded by the navy’s Portsmouth-headquartered Develop Directorate, under the Anti-Submarine Warfare Spearhead programme.

The Submarine Delivery Agency in Bristol will be responsible for the delivery of the submarine.

The performance period of this contract is two years. Work associated with the new award is expected to sustain around 70 and create nearly ten specialist jobs in Plymouth, UK.

The critical capability is being developed under ‘Project Cetus’, which aims to provide enhanced underwater warfare abilities to the RN while boosting the RN’s autonomous underwater system experimentation.

The new vessel is expected to be the ‘largest and most complex’ crewless submarine to be operated by any European navies.

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Once constructed, the new crewless vessel will be deployed alongside the RN’s other crewed submarines, such as the Astute-class vessels.

The battery-powered, unarmed vessel is expected to weigh about 17t and have a diameter of 2.2m, while the length will be around 12m, which is equal to the length of a bus.

It can also be fitted inside a shipping container and easily transported anywhere.

Furthermore, the submarine will be capable of diving deeper than any other submarine available in the RN fleet. The vessel will be able to cover a maximum of 1,000 miles in a particular mission.

RN First Sea Lord admiral Sir Ben Key said: “This Extra Large Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is a capability step-change in our mission to dominate underwater battle space. And I am delighted that the project is able to support a small, innovative UK company which is at cutting edge of this sector.”