The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Phase 2 contracts to two industry teams for the Manta Ray programme.

Launched last year, the Manta Ray project seeks to develop uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUVs) capable of both long duration, long-range missions in ocean environments without human intervention and large payload capacity.

Northrop Grumman Systems and engineering and naval-architecture company Martin Defense Group have been selected as the two prime contractors for the programme.

The companies are developing full-scale demonstration vehicles.

Manta Ray programme manager Kyle Woerner said: “DARPA’s Manta Ray programme has made significant breakthroughs toward enabling payload-capable autonomous underwater vehicles to operate independently of crewed vessels or support infrastructure.

“By investing in diverse solutions, DARPA strengthens our ability to transition innovative undersea technologies to our national security partners.

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“Manta Ray is uniquely positioning itself to simultaneously introduce a new class of underwater vehicle while contributing key component technologies to other vital undersea programmes.”

Phase 1 of the Manta Ray programme was completed with critical design reviews (CDR). In this phase, the teams designed and held preliminary testing on new approaches to address critical challenges and support long-endurance operations.

The selected companies will now commence work on subsystem testing. Fabrication and in-water demonstrations of full-scale integrated vehicles will follow later.