Calling Victa a submarine would be inaccurate. It is both a surface speedboat and an underground craft that can transition between the two in just 120 seconds. Victa may look like something out of a James Bond movie, but beneath her domineering surface there’s more than a 007 movie prop. “There’s very little about Victa that isn’t very cool,” says Scott Verney, CEO of the company behind the vessel, SubSea Craft. And we have to agree.
A beast above and below the water’s surface, she has state-of-the-art control and communication systems and an efficient engine allowing her to reach speeds of up to 40 knots over a range of 250nm, helping it to sneak up on other ships or swim alongside whales, depending on your needs. Plus, she’s built in such a way that she doesn’t need a deployment ship, so if you want to drop her off a plane or sail her from a port, you can.
The three main markets for the craft are defence, research, and leisure, but don’t misunderstand that the latter means it’s meant for cruising. “It’s not a submersible where you’re sitting drinking champagne,” Verney says, “you’re going to have to get your hands wet.”
As construction kicks off at SubSea Craft’s base in Havant, England, we talk to Verney about the development of Victa and its potential for world-changing underwater exploration.
Tell us about the journey of underwater craft.
SubSea Craft was founded by our current President, Graham Allen. About five years ago he had an idea, and together with a small team of engineers he came up with the concept of what we call a “Diver Delivery Unit”. It is a hybrid between a surface speedboat and an underground machine that can make the transition. Then they decided to partner with a number of companies who provided the hull and control system design, and that’s where Victa was born. The business grew around that.
Who makes up the current team?
We are a leading maritime technology company, approximately 20 people strong. The team is made up of a mix of highly skilled people from a variety of backgrounds. There are a few military – I’m a former Navy (21), so is our CEO, and our CCO is a Marine. Then we have really smart marine engineers. The final piece of the puzzle is our operator who comes from a special ops background and is the world leader in piloting these underwater craft. As we have the knowledge and expertise from the operator’s perspective, we were able to design the craft from the user outward.
How does your naval experience benefit you?
I was a war officer, so my specialty was leading ships on the surface around the world – my greatest accomplishment was commanding a few destroyers. It was mostly surface warfare, but from a maritime perspective, understanding what we call the coastline, this coastal area, is extremely important. I have also been involved in counter narcotics and maritime interdiction in the Gulf for many years. When I left the navy, I went into the food business for several years and almost by accident fell back into the maritime sector. I love the feeling of innovation and the challenge of bringing something to market.
To be honest, there’s very little not to like about Victa. What the craft offers from a capability and defense perspective is hugely exciting. It gives another dimension to the defense. As defense evolves, the days of being one big unit against another are over. It is now much more about access and denial of access. With its maneuverability and flexibility, the modular nature of Victa is extremely exciting from a defense strategy and operations perspective.
Who is the target buyer for a ship like this?
When Graham started the company, the initial idea was for the hobby sector, but it became clear very quickly that the level of technology we were talking about lent itself to a broader and potentially larger defense market. and security. But we have gone around in circles a bit, because we believe that there is a market in leisure, especially in extreme sports. This market is interested in having something that is state of the art. Together with our defense background, this also provides security assurance to the high-end market – they know they are not dealing with a bogus organization. We also believe that there is a market in the field of scientific research.
Speaking of diving, what advantage does Victa offer beyond a standard submersible?
You can go from dive site to scuba dive site. The boat doors can open so you can get out and do some reef exploring, then come back inside and the boat doors close. Or you could literally transit alongside the whales. This is the kind of extreme diving we envision. You get four hours of air on the gear system, but that depends on depth and everything, and whatever else you have in your kit, so you have quite a bit of time under the gear. ‘water. And the craft is wet, it’s not a submersible where you sit drinking champagne – you’re going to have to get your hands wet.
The communication system behind the seats for divers was designed from the perspective of the diver. The seats themselves are specifically designed to support the air piece of each individual diver kit as well as having a craft system for air. She was built with the user in mind so they can transit 250 nautical miles and be mission ready at the end – not with their head in a bucket.
What other factors make Victa unique?
There is a combination of factors that make Victa unique. One of them is the transition time. The sophistication of the control system allows a very fast transition from surface to underground – two minutes. This transition time is made possible by sophisticated technology based on fly by wire technology and having a single point of control. Similar machines usually have two different controls – one for the surface, one for the subsoil.
Another factor is “deployability”. She was built to fit in an ISO container so she could be deployed from any type of vessel. It can be deployed from the air, from a parachute or dropped from an airplane. Plus, because it has a surface range of 250 nautical miles, it can actually be deployed from port. This flexibility is unique in itself. You can deploy just about anywhere – the key thing here is that we don’t need a strategic asset to deploy it.
At what stage are you testing the prototype?
We had to move the sea trials. Covid had an impact in many ways. This has caused delays in the supply chain and it continues to affect us as we are in the phase where we are integrating and building the control systems into the craft, which requires a lot of people to work together. The process had to be stretched to allow safe work. We will start our trials a little later, sea trials and demonstrations will take place at the end of summer 2021.
Do you plan to remain independently funded or are you open to funding from investors or military groups?
It’s an interesting question because we’re always open to discussing other investments but, I guess, we’re a little picky. We would like the right people to invest, people who really want to partner up and take the journey with us. I guess we want someone who wants to be part of the adventure with us and work with us to develop the products and services.
What’s on the long-term horizon? Do you plan to expand the product offering beyond Victa?
No. Our single-purpose product at the moment is to get Victa done. However, we have a few things that we are considering moving forward, such as alternative powertrains and durability. It’s a bit cliché but it’s important. So our future plans will incorporate more durability and potential derivatives of Victa with the same function. And then, over time, who knows what transformational products may come from advanced maritime technology. However, the short-term plan is all about Victa.