We all live in a yellow UUV
A British naval vessel's Magical Mystery Tour to the Arctic Circle
Highlights from today’s post:
The unmanned underwater vehicles deploying with the Royal Navy
One ship’s incredibly well documented trip up the eastern coast of the UK
Hydrographic surveys up in the frigid Barents Sea
Earlier this week, an eagle-eyed reader reached out to me with one of the most incredible feats of detail orientation I’ve ever seen.
As the Royal Navy’s hydrographic survey ship HMS Enterprise left the Firth of Forth in Scotland, this reader noticed a small, yellow tube affixed to the vessel’s stern.
Can’t see it? Look harder!
I’ll admit - I couldn’t really see anything there either the first few times I looked at the picture. And even if I could see something, wouldn’t that something likely be some life vests or normal equipment you’d expect to find on a ship? But the more I stared at it, the more it bugged me - what is that little tube?
To tell the story of the tube, we need to back up a bit. To 2000, in fact.
HMS Enterprise is an Echo-class survey vessel ordered by the Royal Navy in 2000 and launched in April 2002. The ship wears many hats. It can conduct seabed surveys, mine and anti-mine warfare, humanitarian relief, and anti-piracy operations. Over its 20-year career, the vessel has performed these missions and many others in locations as varied as the Indian Ocean, Beirut, Taiwan, South Africa, and, as we’ll see today, the Arctic.
Recently, however, the ship has been slowly steaming north up the east coast of the UK, making port calls along the way. Our story really begins with that journey.
The ship appeared outside Sunderland, UK on July 22, where it conducted training and hosted some curious visitors.
A few days later, it sailed up to the Port of Tyne and docked there until it left for Scotland on August 1. It entered the Firth of Forth on August 2 and departed Defence Munitions Crombie — a Royal Navy munitions depot — on August 5. It subsequently took part in a ceremony in Scapa Flow before crossing into the Arctic on August 9.
However, in every photo of the ship before it left Scotland, it didn’t have the little tube stored on the stern. Naturally, this implies that whatever the tube is, it was picked up at the munitions depot at DM Crombie1.
And if you’re still not convinced, there are plenty of other shots that show the ship’s stern deck devoid of whatever that yellow tube is. Which brings us to our main event: what in the Sam Hill is that little tube?
Sky of blue and sea of green
After poring through dozens of marketing videos, pages of search results, and Ministry of Defense announcements, I’m fairly confident that the tube stuck on the back of HMS Enterprise is a Hydroid REMUS 600 autonomous underwater vehicle. Let me explain.
First of all, let’s go back to that picture of the object on the back of the ship.
Blurry and pixelated as the picture may be, it has at least four features that match the REMUS 600: 1. A white beacon on a secondary fin behind the main fin. 2. An upright main orange fin. 3. Two dark, silvery bands; one in front of and one behind the orange fin assembly. 4. A tapered rear end.
There’s a slight possibility that it’s the smaller REMUS 100 or an earlier and possibly modified model of the REMUS 600, but I’m pretty sure it’s a 600.
Way back in 2007, the Royal Navy confirmed they purchased a few REMUS 600s:
Remus is an advanced new capability that will not only reduce the risk to ships and divers during mine countermeasures operations, but will help to undertake a wide range of other important tasks, from supporting marine search and salvage operations to defending our ports and harbours against potential terrorist attacks.
Since then, the Brits have confirmed their use of the REMUS UUVs in various settings, including a YouTube video helpfully entitled “The Royal Navy uses Hydroid Vehicles”.
An interesting feature of the original MOD announcement and Hydroid’s marketing materials for the REMUS UUVs is just how much both focus how on the UUVs are used as mine detection and removal tools. Hydrography is almost an afterthought in these releases!
In slight contrast, the ship’s Twitter account claimed its going to the Arctic for “Hydrographic Operations”:
While HMS Enterprise is primarily a hydrographic survey vessel, it also plays a significant role in mine hunting. From the ship’s website:
HMS Enterprise is an Echo-class multi-role survey vessel - hydrographic oceanographic (SVHO). Multi-talented and adaptable, she’s equally at home mapping and surveying the ocean floor as she is acting as a floating base for our minehunters.
Naturally, this raises the question: is the ship using the REMUS 600 to do some mine hunting while also conducting seabed surveys up in the Arctic? Or is the REMUS 600 just a convenient one-size-fits-all, Swiss Army Knife-like tool for a ship like HMS Enterprise?
Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what’s stored on the stern of the ship when it next pulls into port 👀.
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Also worth mentioning the possibility that they just stored the tube below deck and out of sight until the ship left Scotland. But I’m not persuaded by that - if that was the case, would they not have stored in on deck during one of the eight-plus times the ship was photographed before leaving Scotland?