Bluebottle Adds a New Payload Capability

By Robbin Laird

In the featured photo, the Ocius team is shown after delivering its Bluebottle BB706 to the Royal Australian Navy.

But also announced was the delivery of a new payload to be carried by the USV to provide for enhanced ISR capabilities.

The press release from Ocius highlighted this development as follows:

Today Ocius announced the sale of two Bluebottle USVs to the USA for AUD2.4M and the signing of a Teaming Agreement with well-respected US Defence Prime contractor ThayerMahan to collaborate on the development of its Outpost System on Ocius’ Bluebottle USVs.

At the end of April 2024 off San Diego, Ocius demonstrated two Bluebottle USVs with well-respected US Company ThayerMahan. Bluebottle BONNIE operated in San Diego Harbour participating in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) exercises and Bluebottle BETH operated 15NM off the coast carrying a ThayerMahan Outpost passive array system.

The Outpost system on BETH’s keel winch was deployed to variable significant depths with on-board processing and communications live back to base. This was all done in a sustainable manner using renewable energy for five days achieving a successful results-driven demonstration.

As a result, ThayerMahan, is buying both Bluebottles for $AUD2.4M and with Ocius contracted support will be putting them to work off Connecticut for marine mammal monitoring and demonstrating the capability to US customers.

At the event the event the main speakers highlighted the contribution of Ocius and the new collaboration as follows:

Hon Matt Thistlethwaite said “Ocius is a great example of the ingenuity and cooperation of industry, academia and defence working together. Ocius’ business based in Randwick is partnering with UNSW to deliver innovative uncrewed maritime surveillance vessels for the Royal Australian Navy and the safety of Australia.”

Robert Dane, Ocius CEO said “Both companies share a mutual love of technology and the sea and have complementary proven products. Recently, in San Diego, engineers from both companies worked as a team to combine ThayerMahan’s TRL8 (-9) Outpost system with our TRL8 (-9) Bluebottle USVs.”

We thank the Australian Government, and its defence innovation programs and the RAN from the Chief of Navy down. We are especially grateful to DSTG and Royal Australian Navy Warfare Innovation Branch, now called Maritime Integrated Systems, for their visionary work over the last nine years testing and evaluating our capability.  We have undertaken different Concepts of Operations (CONOPs) and surveillance payloads to make the Bluebottle USV a reliable and effective product.”

Robert added We’d especially like to thank Austrade for their professional support overseas. The recent Sea Air and Space Expo in Washington was our first foray into the USA market and has culminated in immediate sales to the USA.”

Mike Connor CEO of ThayerMahan said “Our collaboration with Ocius has been tremendous. Combining our proven Outpost acoustic sensing system with Bluebottle’s impressive manoeuvrability, functionality, and payload capacity enables us to maximize the performance of our scalable, autonomous surveillance systems. Among other features, the Bluebottle’s ability to harness wind, wave and solar energy and its integrated keel winch are game changers. Together, we will provide AUKUS nations with unprecedented maritime domain awareness, on and below the ocean’s surface, preserving their advantage in a changing and uncertain world.”

Royal Australian Navy Commodore Mick Turner said “Navy has supported the development of the Bluebottle Uncrewed Surface Vessel in Australia and now the San Diego demonstration.  This sale to the USA is validation of our collaboration with Ocius and the Defence Science and Technology Group in developing this capability. The Bluebottle USV developed by Ocius is proving to be a game changer.”

DSTG Chief of Platforms Dr Greg Bain said“Working with Ocius on R&D has been a collaborative experience, and the Bluebottles have enabled us to rapidly prototype and deploy our maritime autonomy and communications capabilities through sea trials on an adaptable, cost-effective platform”.

AUSTRADE’s Anamika Mishra said “We’ve been working with Ocius for a couple of years, and it is extremely rewarding to see Australian capability recognised in competitive global markets. We congratulate Ocius on achieving its first international sale following Sea Air Space, the Team Defence Australia led trade mission to Washington earlier this year.”

UNSW Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Attila Brungs said “We’ve seen Ocius go from four people in a lab to now 40 people, most of whom are UNSW alumni. This is a great success story of industry, academia and Defence working together.”

Investment NSW Industry and Investment Executive Director Maroun El Khoury said “It’s fantastic to see this agreement from Ocius come to fruition, and we’re proud to have helped expand their reach and engagement through tradeshows and industry introductions over the years. Their growth is a great example of what can be achieved through collaboration between academia, industry and government in the creation of highly skilled jobs.”

A press release from Ocius partner ThayerMahan highlighted the partnership as follows:

ThayerMahan, a global leader in autonomous maritime surveillance and offshore solutions, and Australian autonomous uncrewed vessel developer Ocius Technology Ltd, have signed an agreement to combine technologies to develop a best-in-class persistent, autonomous, undersea warfare capability intended to strengthen AUKUS Pilar II objectives.

“The ocean covers more than 70% of our planet, and there is a pressing need to expand our awareness of what lies beneath its surface, said Mike Connor, Chairman and CEO of ThayerMahan, Inc. Our collaboration with Ocius helps us to maximize the performance of our scalable surveillance systems. Together, we will help AUKUS nations know what is in the undersea domain – preserving their advantage in a changing and uncertain world.”

Under the agreement, ThayerMahan will install its Outpost passive acoustic maritime surveillance system aboard Ocius’s Bluebottle unmanned surface vessel (USV). This collaboration will generate uncrewed acoustic sensing systems that can be deployed to create distributed undersea surveillance networks in support of Pillar 2 of the AUKUS agreement.
These systems will enable delivery of cost-effective, wide-area sensor capacity wherever needed.

“Both companies share a mutual love of technology and the sea and have complementary proven products,” said Robert Dane, Chief Executive Officer of Ocius Technology Ltd. “Recently, in San Diego, engineers from both companies worked as a team to combine ThayerMahan’s TRL8 (-9) Outpost system with our TRL8 (-9) Bluebottle USVs and then successfully achieved a results-driven demonstration.”

delivery of cost-effective, wide-area sensor capacity wherever needed.
Outpost Bluebottle Variant Operating in San Diego Harbor

The four-day demonstration was conducted at the April 2024 Association for Uncrewed Vessel Systems International XPONENTIAL global conference and exhibition on autonomy, uncrewed systems, and robotics in San Diego, California. It showed that the Outpost-Bluebottle combination presents credible, highly effective, operational, undersea surveillance from an uncrewed platform that is capable of long-duration deployments. The Bluebottle USV was deployed 10 miles offshore with a deep-towed passive acoustic array and an onboard digital signal processor. Live data, streamed to the conference exhibition floor, was used to detect and classify undersea, surface and airborne contacts in the approaches to San Diego in near-real time.

This collaboration leverages ThayerMahan’s expertise in deploying and operating sophisticated low-power acoustic sensors and advanced, AI-enabled acoustic processing with Ocius’ expertise in providing rugged, long-dwell autonomous vehicles that harvest wind, solar, and wave energy to drive a hull derived from Australia’s world-class sailboat racing designs. ThayerMahan has already taken delivery of its first two Bluebottle vehicles at its headquarters in Groton, CT.

The Bluebottle USV provides a reliable and maneuverable platform with the payload capacity to support Outpost and other maritime sensors. This new Outpost variant provides significant undersea defense capabilities in an efficient, safe, and cost-effective manner that will be a true force-multiplier for the US and Royal Australian Navies’ capital ASW assets, and meet the pressing need to expand our awareness of what lies beneath the surface of the ocean.

In addition to undersea surveillance, this partnership positions Outpost for other maritime security, law enforcement, and environmental monitoring missions.

As I wrote in my book on the coming of maritime autonomous systems, USVs contribute to key mission threads for defence and security forces. And they do so by their flexibility in hosting diverse payloads appropriate to the platform. In fact, USVs are key parts of the payload revolution enabling a kill web force.

As I noted in the introduction to the book:

Maritime autonomous systems are not ends unto themselves, but capabilities which enhance the distributed maritime force and its ability to contribute to joint or coalition operations across the spectrum of warfare.

Ranging from weapons to C2 to ISR to logistical payloads, maritime autonomous systems can deliver expanded capabilities to a Navy usually measured in terms of numbers and tonnage of capital ships.

In short, it is a whole new entry point into the future which empowers the force and provides for enhanced capabilities. But to do so is not just about technological development; it is about evolution of concepts of operations and evolving C2 and ISR working relationships for the fleet.

And our recent Sir Richard Williams seminar focused specifically on the challenges facing Australian military strategy and capabilities. Former Chief of Navy Tim Barrett warned:

“But we are still experimenting. We are addressing maritime autonomous systems as if they were legacy platforms with a generational life.

“They simply are not like that. They carry payloads that are in a constant state of evolution. Their development needs to be rapid and in relation to the task at hand. They are mission thread defined: not platform defined.

“They are outside of the normal long-cycle acquisition process. In fact, the challenge is that we are NOT organized to be able to use these systems now or to engage in the transformation process driven by maritime autonomous systems.

“You cannot design a future force realistically if you are not engaged in the transformation of force through the use of maritime autonomous systems now.”