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  • DARPA Pushes Out The Robo-Boat
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 4:43 PM on Jan 05, 2011

    The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has kicked off the first industry phase of its Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) project, aimed at demonstrating a fast, long-endurance unmanned surface vehicle (USV) to stalk modern, ultra-quiet non-nuclear submarines.

    Contracts for the design of the ACTUV system have gone to Northrop Grumman, SAIC and QinetiQ. Washington Applied Physics Laboratory in Seattle will work on the vessel's sonar, and Spatial Integrated Systems will work on tracking and collision avoidance algorithms. (A key goal is to ensure that the vessel will not present a hazard to other ships.) The first phase will allow DARPA to develop a specification that will be the basis for a competition to design, build and demonstrate a prototype.

    ASW specialists used to say "If you can't hear anything, it's a diesel-electric or a British nuke", but it is the diesel-electric submarines, enhanced with air-independent propulsion, which have been giving the US Navy nightmares for the past decade.

    DE submarines running on batteries are extremely hard to detect, AIP allows them to run far longer and faster without using snorkels, and high-definition electro-optical sensors mean that their masts can pop up, perform a scan and submerge while the crew analyzes the scene.

    The goal of ACTUV is to create a vehicle that can transit 3000 km from its base or a mother ship, loiter for 30 days and then perform a 30-day mission trailing a submarine. What it is not intended to do is search for a submarine. "It relies on our hunters to hunt and find the submarine, but frees them from being tied down in asset-intensive continuous trail," notes a presentation by DARPA program manager Rob McHenry.

    blog post photo

    The same presentation shows a design that emerged from an earlier DARPA program, the Unmanned Naval Vessel (UNV): a 157-ton, 63-foot-long craft with combined diesel and gas turbine propulsion, electric final drive, and a fully submerged hull with a combined mast for sensors, communications and intake/uptake passages. Dash speed would be up to 27 knots.

    The DARPA plan currently calls for a downselect to a single prime contractor this summer, following the current phase. An 18-month system design and risk reduction phase would lead to a critical design review at the end of FY2012, followed by an 18-month construction program and a six-month demonstration. The idea is that the prototype can be quickly transitioned into an operational system.

    Tags: ar99, darpa, actuv, usv

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