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Belying its name, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) announced on 4 May 2023 that it has developed a large autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) called the BlueWhale.  

Noting that the system “has successfully undergone thousands of autonomous operation hours, IAI said the BlueWhale AUV “can perform a significant portion of the operations of a manned submarine, for periods of several weeks, at minimal cost and maintenance, without the need for operators on board”. 

Like manned submarines, the BlueWhale can perform covert intelligence-gathering above the sea surface; detect submarines and other underwater targets; gather acoustic intelligence; and detect naval mines on the seabed. 

The BlueWhale AUV is equipped with a telescopic mast, like the periscope of a manned submarine, that is several metres high, on which are mounted radar and electro-optical systems for detecting sea and coastal targets, IAI explained. By using a satellite communications antenna on the mast, gathered data can be transferred in real time to command posts at sea or on land, anywhere in the world. Submarine detection and acoustic intelligence gathering is enabled using a towed sonar array that is “several tens of metres long” and by flank-mounted sonar arrays on either side of the AUV. 

Mine detection is performed using a dedicated synthetic aperture sonar attached to the sides of the vessel.  

The BlueWhale additionally has a sensor suite to help ensure its safe transit underwater or near the surface. 

IAI noted that in recent years a number of international patents have been registered in relation to the development of the BlueWhale system. 

 “BlueWhale joins the family of land, sea, and space-based unmanned platforms developed by IAI and represents a force multiplier for submarine fleets,” IAI Vice President and Elta CEO Yoav Tourgeman was quoted by the company as saying. “Based on its advanced engineering capabilities, IAI’s Elta Group has for the first time in the world managed to bring to maturity the development and production of an autonomous underwater system able to perform a wide range of tasks. BlueWhale is a significant member of IAI’s family of maritime products, which include solutions for use in economic exclusion zones, tools for managing autonomous vessels, and their integration in monitoring the maritime arena.” 

Peter Felstead