The next-generation submarine hunter is here, but subs won’t hear or see it coming.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been researching and building an autonomous vessel that can track submarines below the water’s surface, and now the vessel is taking to the seas for the first time.
DARPA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, posted a video of the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) conducting a speed test near its construction site in Portland, Oregon.
According to the YouTube post, the vessel was able to reach a top speed of 27 knots or 31 miles per hour and is scheduled to be christened on April 7.
The vessel is meant to robustly track quiet diesel electric submarines without a crew member ever having to set foot on the deck of the ship during an operation.
DARPA still has yet to show off the autonomous navigation system fully in action, as the video shows crew members aboard the ship during testing.
Of course, a fully human-less boat makes for complications when dealing with the litany of maritime laws the vessel will have to abide by, not to mention making what DARPA calls “autonomous interactions with an intelligent adversary.” In other words, what happens if this boat comes across an enemy combatant? Or it crosses into foreign waters? Or any human who is not the U.S. military tries to interact with it?
No boat has traversed long oceanic trips autonomously without getting lost, so this vessel will likely serve as one of the first tests of a system designed to do just that.
The military has already proven it can make and use autonomous boats with the development of a swarm of ships that can converge on an enemy and overwhelm them without risking the lives of Navy sailors.
More answers regarding the submarine tracking autonomous navigation system will come when the agency christens the vessel in April.