The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) will be begin testing a 132 foot long unmanned submarine-hunting ocean drone in waters off the coast off San Diego. The drone is being called an Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) and like its name suggests, it is designed to track stealth submarines from the surface, quietly and autonomously.
Weighing in at 140 tons, the ACTUV is 90 percent complete and is being built at a facility on the Oregon coast.
DARPA hopes the craft will be able to handle months of autonomous operations at sea and will be able to hone in on the quietest submarines in the water from the surface, automatically trailing them.
Although not being exactly touted as a weapon by DARPA, it will have the capacity to "carry a payload" and “enable independently deploying systems.” The U.S. Department of Defense website compares the vessel to naval destroyers, which are currently tasked with trailing and destroying submarines, if necessary.
DARPA says one of the ACTUV's biggest selling points is that it will be much cheaper than a naval destroyer, costing as little as $15,000 a day to operate, compared to a destroyer’s $700,000 daily operating cost.
The development of the ACTUV follows hot on the heels of Russia's development and deployment of its submarine fleet. Russia has been increasingly carrying out military exercises, especially in the keenly disputed Arctic.
Over recent years, DARPA which is the branch of the U.S. Department of Defense agency responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military, has been focusing on developing autonomous systems that can operate in water. Its official line in that it "is interested in hardware and software solutions that enable an autonomous lookout from a surface vessel."
Scott Littlefield, program manager of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office’s says, “This includes autonomous compliance with maritime laws and conventions for safe navigation, autonomous system management for operational reliability, and autonomous interactions with an intelligent adversary.”
In layman’s language, DARPA’s drone boat submarine-hunter will be able to spend months at sea, automatically trailing its target and eventually being able to destroy it if necessary.