DARPA delivers ACTUV autonomous submarine hunter to US Office of Naval Research

US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced it has completed testing and trials of the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) vessel.

The technology demonstration vessel, christened Sea Hunter, has now been delivered to the Office of Naval Research (ONR) which will continue developing the revolutionary prototype vehicle.

Sea Hunter is the first of what could ultimately become an entirely new class of ocean-going vessels able to traverse thousands of kilometers over open seas for months at a time, without a single crew member aboard.

“ACTUV’s move from DARPA to ONR marks a significant milestone in developing large-scale USV technology and autonomy capabilities,” said Alexander Walan, a program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO). “Our collaboration with ONR has brought closer to reality a future fleet in which both manned warships and capable large unmanned vessels complement each other to accomplish diverse, evolving missions.”

The agencies’ collaboration started in September 2014, when DARPA and ONR agreed to jointly fund an extended test phase of an ACTUV prototype. An April 2016 christening ceremony marked the vessel’s formal transition from a DARPA-led design and construction project to a new stage of open-water testing conducted jointly with ONR in San Diego, Calif.

In October 2016, DARPA and ONR began at-sea testing of Sea Hunter’s sensing and autonomy suites. Between February and September 2017, the vessel passed three progressively challenging tests to integrate the suites and use them to comply with International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) in operationally realistic scenarios.

DARPA and ONR also conducted tests to prove a key element of the ACTUV/MDUSV design: the flexibility to handle diverse missions by switching among modular payloads. Sea Hunter had a successful joint test in September 2016 with DARPA’s Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) research effort. In August 2017, the vessel conducted at-sea tests with a mine countermeasures (MCM) payload.

ONR plans additional at-sea tests to further develop ACTUV/MDUSV technologies, including automating payload and sensor data processing, rapidly developing new mission-specific autonomous behaviors, and exploring autonomous coordination among multiple USVs. Pending test results, MDUSV could transition to US Navy operations by 2018.