US launches unmanned submarine-hunter

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‘Sea Hunter’ shortly after its launch in Portland. – DARPA

The US has launched a new unmanned “drone ship” designed to over thousands of kilometres of ocean for months at a time, tracking down diesel electric submarines.

The twin-screw, 40-metre trimaran Sea Hunter is guided by on-board artificial intelligence systems that help it navigate day and night, avoiding collisions with other vessels and sailing around bad weather when required.

The vessel’s developer, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), says advanced software and hardware serve as automated lookouts, allowing it to follow all maritime safety laws and regulations.

While designed usually to operate under sparse remote supervisory control it can also serve as a remotely piloted vessel, should the mission or specific circumstances require it.

Sea Hunter, part of DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program, was christened last week at the Swan Island shipyard in Portland, Oregon, to mark the beginning of a stage of open-water testing to be conducted jointly between DARPA and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

If it passes those tests, similar vessels could be in service with the US Navy as early as 2018.

DARPA says the project has allowed “a new design paradigm”, with reduced constraints on conventional naval architecture.

“While the ACTUV program is focused on demonstrating the anti-submarine warfare tracking capability in this configuration, the core platform and autonomy technologies are broadly extendable to underpin a wide range of missions and configurations for future unmanned naval vessels,” the agency says.

The video below illustrates the ACTUV concept.

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