DARPA Develops Submarine-Hunting Drone

Posted on April 16, 2015 Josh Parker Aviation News

A new type of anti-submarine vessel is under development as part of DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program. The concept was announced in 2010—now five years later, the prototype is about to set sail. The unmanned surface vessel could independently track adversaries’ ultra-quiet diesel-electric submarines over thousands of miles. One of the challenges the program faces is developing autonomous behaviors that will comply with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, known as COLREGS. The current system relies on radars for sensing other vessels. This solves 90 percent of the issue but the system is not able to determine the class of vessel. For example, current technology does not know whether the vessel is a powered boat or a sailboat. In addition, COLREGS requires a “proper lookout by sight and hearing” to be maintained.

DARPA has requested information on available technologies that could help perceive and classify nearby ships and objects. The main focus is on image-processing hardware and software that use passive (electro-optical/infrared, or EO/IR) or non-radar active approaches to develop a reliable, robust onboard system to detect and track nearby surface vessels and potential navigation hazards. The system will be the waterborne equivalent of a Predator drone. The Sea Hunter will use a trimaran design. The vast majority of its hull and superstructure is built out of lightweight and radar-translucent carbon-composite materials. Since a human is never intended to step aboard at any point during operation, the restraints of the conventional naval architecture are reduced. For example, crew support systems are unnecessary. The center hull will be long, streamlined, and around 130 feet long. The first ACTUV prototype is currently under construction at Oregon Iron Works. It will be tested later this year on the Columbia River.

The goal is a full-scale ACTUV that will be able to operate for 60 to 90 days autonomously. Once the Sea Hunter has found something under the water, it will lock onto the submerged vessel by continuously pinging the same contact with active sonar while using other sensors to collect data. The only way to break the lock is to destroy the Sea Hunter or elude it using decoys which the drone will be programmed to notice and disregard. If successful, the new vessel will free up multi-billion dollar nuclear submarines and surface combatants for other tasks. Estimates have said that the ACTUV could provide a 1-to-10 cost ratio as a countermeasure for diesel submarines. In other words, if a conventional submarine costs $400 million, the Sea Hunter should cost around $40 million. Via our proprietary website Just NSN Parts, ASAP Semiconductor is a leading supplier of naval and maritime products. Prospective customers can browse our inclusive inventory of hard-to-find obsolete and current naval parts at www.justnsnparts.com. If you are interested in a part, please feel free to contact our knowledgeable sales staff at sales@justnsnparts.com or 1-714-705-4780 for a quote.

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