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DARPA's sub-hunting drone appears in concept video


January 2, 2013

The ACTUV uses a very high-frequency sonar to take an acoustic image of its target, which can be used to precisely classify the enemy submarine

The ACTUV uses a very high-frequency sonar to take an acoustic image of its target, which can be used to precisely classify the enemy submarine

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The murky details of DARPA's sub-hunting drone project are a bit clearer, thanks to a new concept video published by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). DARPA is spending US$58 million to have SAIC build the first Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vehicle (ACTUV), which will detect and track a growing number of stealthy, inexpensive diesel-electric subs.

It's interesting to note that, unlike some of the UAVs which have garnered so much negative press lately, the ACTUV is completely unarmed. It neutralizes the threat posed by enemy submarines simply by detecting and tracking them. And it will do so autonomously – human control is only required as the drone enters and exits a busy port. The ACTUV is expected to function for 60 to 90 days in rough to very rough seas, before returning to refuel and receive any repairs.

The ACTUV communicates via satellite to its command post and neighboring ships

Navigation will be performed using a combination of artificial intelligence and on board sensors, which include electro-optics, long-range and short-range radar, and LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging). A set of underwater sensors provides long-range detection of submarines while reducing false positives. Once the ACTUV has closed in on its target, it uses a pair of high-frequency active sonars with overlapping coverage to improve its tracking and precision, while a total field magnetometer array provides additional information of the target's activities. At close range, it will be able to determine the submarine's make and model by taking an acoustic image with a very high-frequency sonar.

All of this data will be parsed by the artificial intelligence system's logic to infer a sub's intentions. For example, one of the tactics employed by submarines is to use surface traffic to evade detection. Knowing this, the ACTUV will keep track of ships both above and below the water simultaneously. It will use this positional awareness to seamlessly adjust its route, so that it can continue to track a sub while avoiding any surface-level ships. Of course, if it makes a mistake, such as tracking a red herring, the operator can easily take over to make the necessary corrections.

It'll be a few years before the first ACTUV is tested out at sea, but if it lives up to the following video's hype, it could be a real game-changer.

Source: DARPA via Wired

About the Author
Jason Falconer Jason is a freelance writer based in central Canada with a background in computer graphics. He has written about hundreds of humanoid robots on his website Plastic Pals and is an avid gamer with an unsightly collection of retro consoles, cartridges, and controllers. All articles by Jason Falconer

Leaves so many questions unanswered, one important question is: why wouldn't adversarial sub simply take little ACTUV drone 'out'?


Good idea.. When do they expect this thing to be deployable 2025?

Gregory Minor

Well not that they are only looking for Diesel-electric subs. NOT Stirling engined like the Swedish n German subs...why you might think. well the US Navy rented the services of one of Sweden's subs, The Gothland, for years and they couldn't find it in Naval exercises. (lol) (over 3 years they rented the sub. So its fumy to see US Navy giving up on finding Stirling engined subs and just go for the older stuff..LOL

Toffe Kaal

While some commenters might think that the US Navy learned nothing in the three years it rented the Stirling-engined subs, one has to wonder if they would admit to learning anything if they did. I doubt it.

Regarding the specifics, I would imagine that as this craft is designed to protect an aircraft carrier centred battle group, diesel-electric power would be fine. However, it would be quite possible for any advanced nation to make them nuclear powered and have them track ballistic missile submarines for their whole tour of duty.

Arm such craft with nuclear depth charges, which can ‘kill’ at distances of six to ten miles, and it is bye bye deterrence. There is hardly anything left of it as a strategy anyway. From then on we truly would move into the nightmare world of whoever fires first not only wins, they win completely with minimal loss. That would give them all the incentive to do so, rather than wait for wiser counsels to prevail. Indeed, in those circumstances the wiser counsel would probably be to fire first and ask later. The time for wiser counsels to speak is now, before deployment. Ban MIRV now and we might make the world a safer place.

Mel Tisdale

affordable hmm... how does $15,000,000 sound.

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