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Construction begins on DARPA's autonomous unmanned anti-submarine vessel

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July 16, 2014

The Leidos ACTUV is part of DARPA's submarine tracking program (Image: DARPA)

The Leidos ACTUV is part of DARPA's submarine tracking program (Image: DARPA)

As part of DARPA's Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program, Reston Virginia-based company Leidos is building the first robotic autonomous vessel designed to locate and track the extremely quiet diesel submarines that are finding their way into the navy fleets around the world.

Almost the only thing that justifies the expense and skill needed to operate a naval submarine is its ability to disappear underwater and operate invisibly. That’s why countering this advantage by locating and tracking enemy submarines even in peacetime is a major job for naval forces around the world. It’s a task so vital, yet so time consuming and expensive, that it once employed almost the entire Royal Navy during the Cold War, so it’s no wonder that automating sub hunting is a high priority.

As part of the DARPA program, the national security, health and engineering company Leidos is currently building an ACTUV capable of autonomously tracking diesel submarines at extreme depths for months on end. The firm received the okay to go ahead with the work on the craft from DARPA in February.

The unmanned trimaran is built out of carbon composites using a modular design and a parallel workflow method to speed up assembly. It is equipped with navigation and piloting sensors, electro-optics, and long and short range radar.

According to Leidos, the ACTUV’s modular design allows it to not only carry out anti-submarine warfare operations, but to be refitted for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. In addition, the vessel is able to report back on the situation and its condition and has computers programmed to identify other vessels and predict what they will do next.

The ACTUV is being built at Christensen Shipyard in Vancouver, Washington under the supervision of Leidos and Oregon Iron Works. Construction is scheduled to take 15 months with the launch on the Columbia River set for 2015.

"ACTUV's advanced sensor technology should allow for continuous surveillance which, combined with the vessel architecture and design, is expected to provide autonomous safe navigation supporting Navy missions around the world," says Leidos Group President, John Fratamico.

Source: Leidos

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
7 Comments

And since there are no occupants on-board, this thing could in theory sit on the bottom of a deep ocean for many months of the year.

Nairda
16th July, 2014 @ 06:51 pm PDT

"... capable of autonomously tracking diesel submarines at extreme depths for months on end."

How on earth does a diesel submarine stay at any depth for any protracted length of time, even an unmanned one? Do they have extra long snorkel tubes? And why limit the operational competence to diesel engined submarines? Could it be that this device is really intended to thwart drug smugglers?

"... diesel submarines that are finding their way into the navy fleets around the world."

Meaning one of these for each submarine operated by a nation deemed hostile, or potentially hostile. Surely a much cheaper way is to use phased array passive sonar (each vessel has its own unique sound signature) combined with surface bow wave detection by satellite together with magnetic and surface temperature anomaly (particularly for nuclear powered submarines that have not found a thermocline to hide under). For some of the larger submarines, gravitational anomaly detection might also be possible. One thing for sure is that once these detectors have been installed, they will be available for the detection of all submarines and many surface vessels.

It is worth remembering that a nuclear depthcharge can take out any submarine within a six mile radius and possibly even those up to ten miles away.

Mel Tisdale
17th July, 2014 @ 03:12 am PDT

Trillions spent in killing each other could be better spent.

ezeflyer
17th July, 2014 @ 09:02 am PDT

This unit sits, travels on the surface, not under it.

It's a good idea but would be better if it can submerged for it's protection and no reason not too other than some more cost. If drug smugglers can, do, the military should be able to.

It's electric, fuelcell, other powered subs this is for, not just diesels which only use the diesels on the surface, electric most of the time.

Few subs go under 1,000' and most only 400' or so. None of these are going to sit on the bottom at 2k-10k' deep as they would get crushed by the pressure.

A bunch of these could be mass produced rather cheaply, $150k plus electronics but likely they'll gold plate them to run up the cost.

jerryd
17th July, 2014 @ 09:08 am PDT

I left the Royal Navy in 1978, even back then our nuke subs could stay under for up to three years, (they go on space rations), producing their own water, their own oxygen. These days its probably indefinite, the only limitation is the sanity of the crew.

Martin-tu
17th July, 2014 @ 10:34 am PDT

David, I like your articles but diesel submarines? Well, you're half-way there. They are diesel-electric submarines. The run on diesel power when surfaced, charging the batteries (or just below the surface with a snorkel sticking up) which power the electric propulsion motors when the sub is submerged.

Will_Power
17th July, 2014 @ 03:48 pm PDT

The most advanced diesel powered submarines have Air Independent Propulsion systems. They run on batteries when evading detection, so they are more quiet than nuclear powered submarines at the time. The only nations that have nuclear powered submarines in large numbers are the USA & Russia. Many nations have or can afford advanced diesel powered submarines, notably China. But they are far beyond the means of even the biggest criminal organization.

The ACTUV will patrol areas, not attempt to follow individual submarines & will, apparently, use active sonar rather than hydrophones. Sea floor hydrophone arrays were used during the Cold War but are impractical now because submarines will transit the territorial waters of 3rd countries. The ACTUV is a surface vessel because of it's own diesel powerplant.

Small nuclear weapons are no longer in use in the West due to their political impracticality.

theotherwill
17th July, 2014 @ 07:36 pm PDT
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