On September 13, 2023, local maritime observer Hervé Dermoune captured images of the XLUUV, an uncrewed submarine, surfaced with its sensor mast raised and accompanied by several support vessels. Naval Group, the French shipbuilder responsible for the XLUUV, confirmed that the vessel had entered the “industrial qualification trials phase” last week.

The XLUUV is a demonstrator platform, designed to test and develop autonomy software for future uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUVs). One of the key technologies being tested is the Controlled Decision-Making Autonomy (ADC®), which acts as the onboard brain for drones. This technology allows sailors to safely supervise all unmanned systems and execute complex missions in conjunction with manned ships.

In May 2023, the French defence procurement agency (DGA) awarded Naval Group a contract to study the design of an Unmanned Combat Underwater Vehicle (UCUV). The XLUUV demonstrator was first revealed in October 2021 and was secretly launched in Southern France in November 2020. The UUV is 10 meters long and can be extended up to 25 meters by adding additional batteries or propulsion systems such as an Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system. Its current displacement is 10 tons.

Cyril Levy, Head of UxV & MCM Business Line at Naval Group, stated that future missions could include mine countermeasure (MCM) or anti-submarine warfare (ASW), as the company’s F21 heavy weight torpedo (HWT) can be accommodated in the XLUUV weapons bay. It’s also understood that the drone could conduct offensive mine warfare operations, as demonstrated by a Naval Group animation video showing the XLUUV deploying mine-like objects on the seabed. This aligns with the primary mission of the U.S. Navy’s ORCA XLUUV project.

With DGA’s involvement in Naval Group’s XLUUV project, France joins a select group of nations investing in this capability. This year alone has seen new XLUUV projects from countries including China, Japan, India, Germany, Israel and South Korea.