Saildrone and Thales Australia enter partnership to outfit USVs with ASW sensor

By Nick Wilson / April 8, 2024 at 5:15 AM

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- Drone company Saildrone today announced a new partnership with Thales Australia to equip autonomous uncrewed surface vehicles with a towed-array sonar payload to support anti-submarine warfare missions.

The partnership will pair the latest evolution of Thales’ BlueSentry thin-line, towed-array system -- a platform-agnostic payload designed for compatibility with a variety of unmanned vehicles -- with Saildrone’s Surveyor medium-USV, a 65-foot-long autonomous vessel made for long-endurance, open-ocean missions including mapping and maritime domain awareness.

The towed-array system will enable the USV to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance functions needed in ASW missions and will free up manned vessels typically involved in these operations, Saildrone announced today at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference.

“Thales Australia has a proud history of exporting specialized sonar and acoustic products in support of one of our closest allies, the United States,” Troy Stephen, vice president of underwater systems for Thales Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement included in the announcement. “This opportunity with Saildrone now represents the ability to expand that support to include our latest innovations in the field of undersea surveillance through the BlueSentry thin-line array system.”

In a statement shared with Inside Defense, Saildrone Founder & CEO Richard Jenkins said the effort is not directly related to AUKUS Pillar II, which seeks greater collaboration between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom in the development of advanced technologies including autonomy and undersea capabilities.

“That said, we anticipate considerable applications within the AUKUS Pillar II structure when it takes shape, at which time the Surveyor/BlueSentry combination will be a mature product ready to roll out at scale," Jenkins said.

In 2022, Saildrone and shipbuilder Austal USA announced a partnership to increase Surveyor production at the latter company’s aluminum production line in Mobile, AL. The two companies launched the first Austal-built Surveyor earlier this year.

The Navy is incorporating Surveyor USVs in exercises and experimentation. Last month, Rear Adm. James Aiken said the 4th Fleet has seen success using Saildrone systems in its operations, while Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti underscored the service’s focus on developing and fielding uncrewed technology.