The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has christened the US Navy's first unmanned surface vehicle Sea Hunter, built as part of the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) continuous trail unmanned vessel (ACTUV) programme.
The ACTUV programme aims to explore the US Navy's capabilities to engage in missions across thousands of kilometres of range and months of endurance, without the need for a human presence in the vehicle, and under a sparse remote supervisory control model.
It 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 other nations.
The programme aims to leverage technology to perform stealth anti-submarine missions, while reducing work force and other related costs.
DARPA programme manager Scott Littlefield said: "Although ACTUV will sail unmanned, its story is entirely about people.
"It will still be sailors who are deciding how, when and where to use this new capability and the technology that has made it possible.
"And we could not have overcome the massive technical challenges of reaching this point without the creative, committed teamwork of our commercial partners and the Office of Naval Research (ONR)."
The 130ft twin-screw trimaran ACTUV can operate in a range of maritime climates, and its hardware and software allows the vehicle to operate safely near manned maritime vessels in all weather and traffic conditions, day or night.
During an at-sea testing on a surrogate vessel, the autonomy suite exhibited its ability to operate the ship while complying with maritime laws and conventions for safe navigation, including International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, or COLREGS.
In 2014, DARPA signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the ONR to fund an extended test phase of an ACTUV prototype to assess the capabilities of the vessel and several innovative payloads during open-water testing.
In 2018, the ACTUV programme is expected to be transitioned to the US Navy for use in anti-submarine warfare.
Image: DARPA christens the US Navy's first ACTUV as Sea Hunter. Photo: courtesy of DARPA.