FORMER SOVIET UNION

Motivation

The past and present conditions both Russia and Ukraine have a strong impact on the trend toward unmanned systems. Except for Intershelf in Russia and Rauma in Finland, the facilities that WTEC visited were and are government-funded and directed. These facilities were tightly controlled. Goals and objectives were determined not necessarily by the scientific community, but based on national needs. Some facilities were so tightly secured that communications with other agencies or institutions either did not exist or were very difficult. Also, establishing knowledge of what the rest of the world was doing was difficult if not impossible. The situation has completely changed, but the lack of funds and facilities in the infrastructure for establishing communications links has still proven to be very difficult to overcome.

Russian scientists have always felt that good science requires that the scientist be present. That is why they have designed and built a large number of manned submersibles, many more than previously known in the West. The need for ROVs did not exist and consequently was not pursued, with a few exceptions that will be noted.

The drive to commercialize products is very high in the countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU) because of the need for funds. The problem is that the Russians do not have an understanding of the world market place, with regard to either the needs of potential customers or the competition. The pricing of an object is very difficult. The profit motive never existed, consequently the cost of an object was not critical. The price structure has no resemblance to that in the Western world. (For example, the salary for a senior scientist is approximately $40 per month.) Therefore, the only way they have been pricing objects or systems for the world market is to find a Western counterpart and price their object the same (see discussion of Fish-102 and 103 below under Low-Cost and Deep ROVs). The motivation for a westerner to purchase Russian or Ukrainian hardware is probably low because of the lack of documentation and parts, and because of the logistics for repairs. The domestic market in these countries is very small because of a lack of funds.

Lastly, the level of sophistication of some of the unmanned systems may be too low for the Western scientist. Computer technology is 10 to 15 years behind that in the West. On a positive note, the basic engineering design of hardware is generally simple, reliable, and field repairable. This condition was vividly exhibited in the manned submersibles that the WTEC panel saw.

The unmanned systems observed at the Russian and Ukrainian sites visited can be broken down into the following categories:

Low-Cost ROVs

These ROVs are the "eye-ball" types, a controllable platform with a video system that is generally black and white. Examples of these are the Polus and Adeline ROVs from the Institute of Hydromechanics (UAS), in Kiev, Ukraine. These are 100 pound ROVs for 100 m water depths. The Fish-102 (36 pounds, 100 m water depth) from Intershelf is very similar to the early Phantom ROVs from Deep Ocean Technology. Based on this similarity, Intershelf has priced the unit at $14,000, and has been negotiating with a Western distributor. These vehicles are probably 10 to 15 years behind prevailing hardware designs.

Deep ROVs

One interesting trend was observed. ROVs operated either in shallow water, that is, 100 meters, or "full-ocean-depth," that is, 6,000 meters. An example of the deep ROVs are the Uran vehicle from the Krylov Institute of Ship Research in St. Petersburg. The Uran, built two years ago, is a large ROV with a smaller one tethered to it. The Intershelf Fish-103 (100 pounds weight and 1 kW power) has an operating depth of 6,000 m, but it must operate from a separate platform via a 30 m tether. This ROV was used on the third expedition to the Komsomolets submarine that sank in 1,700 m of water off Norway in 1989. Subsequent to the WTEC panel's visit, Fish 103 was used in three additional dives to Komsomolets during August of 1993, penetrating into the submarine's first compartment, operating there for a total of five hours and recording four hours of video. Fish-103 has been priced at $50,000.

AUVs

The only AUV observed was the Scaros vehicle at the Bauman Institute of Underwater Devices and Robotics in Moscow. The vehicle is very similar in function and size to the recently retired French Epaulard. The Scaros is 80 percent complete, but was put on hold because of a lack of funds. Another AUV, the MT-88 from the Institute of Marine Technology Problems in Vladivostock, exists but was not seen. This vehicle can operate to 6,000 m, has a range of 15 km, and is approximately 3 feet in diameter, 12 feet long, and 2,000 pounds. The vehicle is tracked acoustically and can be controlled from an acoustic command link. The MT-88 conducted the first survey of the Komsomolets submarine.

Specialty ROVs

There are numerous examples of specialty ROVs. The Shirshov Institute of Oceanography (RAS) in Moscow has a deep ocean tow sled that can operate at 6,000 m from a 10,000 m umbilical. Sensors are a side scan sonar, low light level black-and-white video, and a color stereo camera. This system was used on the second Komsomolets survey.

The Marine Hydrophysical Institute (UAS) in Sevastopol, Ukraine, has developed a towed CTD that can be maneuvered while under tow. This institute is known for its physical oceanographic sensors. Some of its systems can operate at 2,500 m, and can measure dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, chlorophyll fluorescence, CTD, and distance to the bottom.

Bauman designed and built numerous specialty vehicles, for example, a bottom crawler, an object (torpedo?) retriever, the Manta and Aquator (circa 1978) ROVs, and Triton. No specifications were made available, but the author has the impression that they are 10- to 15-year-old systems.

Intershelf designed a series of bottom-tracked devices: Alpha at 1 ton, Beta at 8 tons, and Gamma at 30 tons. They are controllable platforms capable of handling various types of payload work packages to a water depth of 400 m. One unit, an 8-ton Beta, was built, tested, and completely modularized for easy transport anywhere.

Present Position. Establishing a present position relative to the Western world is very difficult. The low-cost ROVs are definitely old technology. The deep ROVs are another matter. The West has very little experience with ROVs operating in 6,000 m of water. The AUVs are not impressive except for the fact that the MT-88 can operate in 6,000 m of water. There was nothing technologically exciting about the specialty ROVs. Unmanned systems have not been the forte of the Russians or Ukrainians.

Trends. Out of necessity, the various facilities and individual members have formed private ventures in an effort to generate badly needed funds. The main problem that exists is that they are not market wise. For example, there are numerous ventures for developing tourist submarines. However, a detailed study of the world market for tourist submarines indicates that a need exists for only 10 to 15 more submarines.

Intershelf exemplifies another trend where a foreign firm, J.P. Kenny, formulates teaming agreements with individuals and facilities to conduct business on a worldwide basis.

The first market for unmanned systems will be in the countries of the FSU, but the prevailing economic situation there will have to become more stable and stronger.


Published: June 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian