DARPA Tests Eye in the Sky for Unmanned High-Speed Ship


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is taking a cue from oceanside resorts. On Monday, DARPA shared a video of its months-old, unmanned, high-speed boat — the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) — towing its new “low-cost, elevated sensor mast” prototype. It’s designed to extend the ship’s surveillance, recon, and intel ranges, and it’s a glimpse into the future of autonomous warfare.

At sea-level, it’s much harder to relay communications great distances. Since the ACTUV is crewless, it needs to communicate its whereabouts and intel on its own. It’s designed to stay at sea for months and travel hundreds of miles, all on its own. The sensor mast — part of the Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) project — which DARPA successfully tested this month, can carry “up to 150 pounds between 500 and 1,500 feet in altitude,” a DARPA press release states. At this height, the “surface-track radar extended its range by 500 percent,” the “electro-optical/infrared scanner doubled its observed discrimination range,” and an omnidirectional, handheld radio’s range tripled. It’s an eye — and a bullhorn — in the sky.

It’s a creative, cost-effective solution to bolster ACTUV’s capabilities. For now, it’s still in the prototype phase, but soon enough the autonomous ship will be scanning for submarines; with TALONS, it will relay this information to great effect. Now that the test is complete, DARPA will begin to transfer TALONS to the Navy, who will further improve upon the design.