The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has issued a request for information (RFI) for new technologies that will help augment the sensing and classifying capabilities of its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) continuous trail unmanned vessel (ACTUV).

The RFI aims to look for sensor systems and image-processing hardware and software that could help ACTUV and other unmanned surface vessels to detect nearby ships and other objects, and decrease dependence on radar as primary sensor.

DARPA programme manager Scott Littlefield said: "We’re looking for test-ready, multi-sensor approaches that push the boundaries of today’s automated sensing systems for unmanned surface vessels.

"Enhancing the ability of these kinds of vessels to sense their environment in all weather and traffic conditions, day or night, would significantly advance our ability to conduct a range of military missions."

The RFI has sought information with focus on three technical areas including maritime perception sensors, maritime perception software and classification software for day shapes / navigation lights.

The maritime perception sensors are a combination of non-radar-based imaging and tracking methods including passive and active imagers in the visible and infrared wavelengths and class one laser rangefinder (LRF) and flash light detection and ranging (LIDAR).

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The systems should be capable of helping to detect ships even in conditions such as haze, fog and rain over ranges between 4km and 15km.

The maritime perception software will involve developing algorithms and software to enable passive optical or non-radar active imagers to track and classify ships.

"We’re looking for test-ready, multi-sensor approaches that push the boundaries of today’s automated sensing systems for unmanned surface vessels."

DARPA is also seeking algorithms and software to support detection, tracking and classification of day shapes and navigation lights using passive optical or non-radar active imagers.

The ACTUV programme seeks to curb emerging national security threats affecting the US and friendly naval operations worldwide, amidst increasing numbers of silent diesel electric submarines being built and operated by enemy nations.

The programme aims to leverage technology to perform stealth anti-submarine missions, while reducing work force and other related costs.

The initial water-borne testing of an ACTUV prototype is scheduled to take place later this year.

In 2018, the ACTUV programme is expected to be transitioned to the US Navy for use in anti-submarine warfare.

Image: The hull for the ACTUV prototype is under construction in preparation for planned water-borne testing of the full prototype later this year. Photo: courtesy of DARPA.