The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently christened its prototype Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV). Nicknamed the “Sea Hunter,” it is essentially an ocean-going drone whose mission is to find and neutralize the enemy’s stealth diesel submarines and countermine activities. It ushers in a new technological era for naval intelligence and warfare.
“Sea Hunter” is designed to operate independently but may be guided for specific missions and is more cost-effective than manned ships. The vessel is 130-feet long (40 meters) with an interior only big enough for a maintenance crew to maneuver.
Its main feature is its artificial intelligence. Advanced software makes it possible to sail on months’ long ocean voyages without anyone on board. The software also allows for it to safely navigate around ships, sail in rough waters day and night and to adhere to all maritime safety laws and regulations.
Scott Littlefield, DARPA Program manager, says,
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.
The DARPA-led design and construction program is now on to the next stage, as the “Sea Hunter” leaves Portland, Oregon for San Diego, California and open-water testing. If the trial is successful, the next step is to include it and others in the U.S. Navy’s fleet in 2018.
At the christening, the Honorable Robert Work, Deputy Secretary of Defense said,
And this is going to be a navy unlike any navy in history – a human-machine collaborative battle fleet will confound our enemies. The other thing this ship represents is incredible innovation.
The “Sea Hunter” is part of DARPA’s initiative to utilize artificial intelligence for a variety of military decisions and tasks. Already, it has over 200 different programs across the science and engineering spectrum. DARPA’s website tag line says it all: “Creating Breakthrough Technologies for National Security.” To achieve its goals, the agency partners with universities, industry, small business, the government, the public and the media. DARPA has plans for robot battlefield managers that can decode enemy messages during air reconnaissance missions or determine strategy during a space war.
The traditional practices and armaments of past wars are being replaced with new technology in this technologically advanced world.