US military readies drone submarine hunter

Warship is unmanned and – currently – unarmed

Video Early next year a 140-ton warship will slip from its Pacific berth and sail out to patrol US coastal waters for up to three months, all without a single sailor on board.

The Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) is a 132-foot ship packed with sensors designed to hunt down signals from diesel-electric submarines using active and passive sonar. It can be controlled via satellite by landlubbers in air-conditioned cubicles, but is also designed to operate autonomously for long periods.

Scott Littlefield, program manager of US military research boffins at DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, said that the ACTUV was a money-saving bit of military kit, costing $15,000 to $20,000 per day to run. By contrast, a destroyer packed with humans in need of sleep, food, and water costs $700,000 a day.

The drone ship will set sail for sea trials in January or February from its harbor in Oregon on a trip to San Diego to iron out the kinks in its systems. The autonomous navigation system underwent a successful 35-mile test in January aboard a 42-foot (13-metre) surrogate vessel, and the ACTUV will go out on a series of limited trials over the next two years.

Youtube Video

"Generally, we're there," Littlefield said, adding that the goal was to get a ship that "is about as reliable as a vessel operated by experienced mariners."

There are no plans to equip the ACTUV with weapons - yet. The ship is supposed to patrol certain zones, periodically springing forwards and then coasting to allow its sonar systems to work. If it detects a signal, and the human overseer confirms the spot, it alerts other surface ships and they can move in to see what the fuss is about.

But since the boat is basically a floating sensor platform, it can be adapted to many roles. Littlefield said scouting out minefields was one use the operators are exploring.

As the ACTUV won't need to carry a human crew and the supplies to keep them going, the ship can also be packed with more hardware and stay out for longer periods. While it's unarmed at the moment, the Pentagon may have other plans in future if it proves reliable. ®

Similar topics

Narrower topics

Other stories you might like

  • World’s smallest remote-controlled robots are smaller than a flea
    So small, you can't feel it crawl

    Video Robot boffins have revealed they've created a half-millimeter wide remote-controlled walking robot that resembles a crab, and hope it will one day perform tasks in tiny crevices.

    In a paper published in the journal Science Robotics , the boffins said they had in mind applications like minimally invasive surgery or manipulation of cells or tissue in biological research.

    With a round tick-like body and 10 protruding legs, the smaller-than-a-flea robot crab can bend, twist, crawl, walk, turn and even jump. The machines can move at an average speed of half their body length per second - a huge challenge at such a small scale, said the boffins.

    Continue reading
  • IBM-powered Mayflower robo-ship once again tries to cross Atlantic
    Whaddayaknow? It's made it more than halfway to America

    The autonomous Mayflower ship is making another attempt at a transatlantic journey from the UK to the US, after engineers hauled the vessel to port and fixed a technical glitch. 

    Built by ProMare, a non-profit organization focused on marine research, and IBM, the Mayflower set sail on April 28, beginning its over 3,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. But after less than two weeks, the crewless ship broke down and was brought back to port in Horta in the Azores, 850 miles off the coast of Portugal, for engineers to inspect.

    With no humans onboard, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) can only rely on its numerous cameras, sensors, equipment controllers, and various bits of hardware running machine-learning algorithms to survive. The computer-vision software helps it navigate through choppy waters and avoid objects that may be in its path.

    Continue reading
  • Revealed: The semi-secret list of techs Beijing really really wishes it didn't have to import
    I think we can all agree that China is not alone in wishing it had an alternative to Microsoft Windows

    China has identified "chokepoints" that leave it dependent on foreign countries for key technologies, and the US-based Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) claims to have translated and published key document that name the technologies about which Beijing is most worried.

    CSET considered 35 articles published in Science and Technology Daily from April until July 2018. Each story detailed a different “chokepoint” or tech import dependency that China faces. The pieces are complete with insights from Chinese academics, industry insiders and other experts.

    CSET said the items, which offer a rare admission of economic and technological vulnerability , have hitherto “largely unnoticed in the non-Chinese speaking world.”

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022