US Navy sub-hunter drone aces sea trials

Photo, video: DARPA
Photo, video: DARPA

Sea Hunter, the U.S. Navy’s unmanned anti submarine warfare vessel, has recently completed at-sea tests off the coast of San Diego, California.

Developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program, the vessel met or surpassed all performance objectives for speed, maneuverability, stability, seakeeping, acceleration/deceleration, and fuel consumption, as well as establishing confidence in mechanical systems reliability in an open-ocean environment, Leidos, a company involved involved in the vessel’s manufacturing has confirmed.

The completion of Sea Hunter’s performance trials is the first milestone in the two-year test program co-sponsored by DARPA and the Office of Naval Research. Testing in upcoming months is scheduled to include testing of sensors, the vessel’s autonomy suite, compliance with maritime collision regulations, and proof-of-concept demonstrations for a variety of U.S. Navy missions.

Back in April 2016, DARPA said the vessel reached a top speed of 27 knots (31 mph/50 kph) at its Oregon site.

The vessel has a number of unusual features because it does not need to accommodate people. For example, interior spaces are accessible for maintenance but aren’t designed to support a permanent crew.

According to DARPA, at-sea testing on a surrogate vessel, ACTUV’s autonomy suite has proven it is capable of operating the ship in compliance with maritime laws and conventions for safe navigation—including International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, or COLREGS.

ACTUV accomplishes this feat through advanced software and hardware that serve as automated lookouts, enabling the ship to operate safely near manned maritime vessels in all weather and traffic conditions, day or night.

The vessel was also developed at a fraction of the price of regular anti-submarine surface combatants. The fact that it would never have a man onboard will allow the vessel to match and exceed the speeds of submarines as the vessel would have reduced constraints on conventional naval architecture elements such as layout, accessibility, crew support systems, and reserve buoyancy.

In September 2014, DARPA signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Office of Naval Research to jointly fund an extended test phase of an ACTUV prototype.

DARPA will collaborate with ONR to fully test the capabilities of the vessel and several innovative payloads during open-water testing scheduled to begin this summer off the California coast after preliminary checkout and movement to San Diego.

In case everything goes according to plan, the program could transition to the U.S. Navy by 2018.

Below is a video of the vessel during its first out at sea.

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