'Sea Hunter': Meet the Submarine Killing Undersea Robot

Zachary Keck

Key point: Competitive strategies like the first offset (tactical nuclear weapons) often employ cost-efficient systems. Here, too, the Sea Hunter fits the bill.

America’s so-called Sea Hunter has taken a major step forward.

On January 30, the U.S Navy accepted the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) from DARPA, the Pentagon’s premier technology-innovation agency. The Sea Hunter, as the first ship of the ACTUV program is called, is an unmanned ship primarily designed to track quiet diesel-electric submarines for months with little or no human help. DARPA has described the objective of the program as developing an “advance unmanned maritime system autonomy to enable independently deploying systems capable of missions spanning thousands of kilometers of range and months of endurance under a sparse remote supervisory control model.”

This included demonstrating the ship’s ability to follow all international maritime laws, and “the capability of the ACTUV system to use its unique characteristics to employ non-conventional sensor technologies that achieve robust continuous track of the quietest submarine targets over their entire operating envelope.” DARPA also noted that while the immediate goal was to improve antisubmarine warfare (ASW) tracking capabilities, “the core platform and autonomy technologies are broadly extendable to underpin a wide range of missions and configurations for future unmanned naval vessels.”

The resulting prototype is a 140-ton ship that is 132 feet long, making it the largest unmanned ship ever built. The ship can reportedly also reach speeds of twenty-seven knots. Further work on ACTUV, including building new ships, will be handled by the the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which became a partner on the program in 2014. DARPA itself began work on the program around 2010. Joint testing began in 2016.

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