Morphing hull concept for underwater vehicles

Timothy F. Miller, Farhan S. Gandhi, Russell J. Rufino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Morphing or adaptive structures may be of interest in underwater vehicle design due to their potential for optimizing the operational envelopes of complex vehicles. Adaptive structures have been researched heavily and put to use extensively in the aerospace industry. This paper examines a possible use and benefit associated with morphing structures with unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). The growing résumé of applications associated with UUVs as well as their unique abilities make them an excellent subject of study for morphing concepts. This paper focuses on possible uses of flexible hull morphing, specifically the benefits associated with such adaptability in terms of range, endurance, and speed. This research proposes a UUV system which has a flexible hull wrapped around a standard pressure hull. The annulus created between the pressure hull and the flexible hull is used for the storage of expendable energetics, in this case diesel fuel. Storing fuel in the newly created annulus also eliminates the need to waste space within the pressure hull storing fuel and thus the pressure hull may also be shrunk. This paper focuses on the benefits of morphing where the shape of the flexible hull remains the same but the diameter of the outer hull is shrunk in concert with the consumption of fuel thus decreasing the drag profile of the vehicle, resulting in increased vehicle range. Two different UUV missions were outlined: (1) constant speed survey and (2) slow speed survey with high speed excursion. For the slow speed survey mission, semi-submersible heavy vehicles carrying in the range of 50,000 kg of fuel could realize increases of range close to 40% when compared to a similarly sized vehicle without the adaptive capabilities. Small vehicles on the other hand, show limited benefits of diameter morphing, gaining less than 5% in range over the non-adaptive system. Excursion missions during which a surveying operation must be augmented with some sort of high speed maneuver show more significant benefits with a morphing system. The results show that diameter morphing is not viable in all situations, yet the concept shows promise for certain long range/long endurance UUV missions, as well as missions that require occasional high speed operation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)92-102
Number of pages11
JournalOcean Engineering
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Ocean Engineering


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