DARPA working on uncrewed drone ship to spy on submarines

11 Nov 2015

Drones are not just for the skies, it seems, with the US defence arm DARPA working on a special unscrewed ship that floats around on the surface of the ocean keeping an eye on the submarines buzzing around beneath it.

As with every DARPA creation, this drone ship’s name is hardly the catchiest: the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV). The role it will play will greatly reduce the modern cost of monitoring the seas.

At the moment, US destroyers cost around $700,000 per day to keep running, with ACTUV coming in at around 3pc of that rate, and it will be on-stream early next year.


Of course, destroyers do more than just monitor subs, they also, well, destroy them. And ACTUV, while not planned for that just yet, could take on that role, too.

“The navy is considering using this [the ACTUV] for a variety of missions,” said Scott Littlefield, program manager of DARPA’s tactical technology office.

According to a US department of defence article on the ACTUV, this includes mine countermeasures but, more tellingly, the drone ship could carry weapons too.

“[Littlewood] said that other advantages of the ACTUV concept include greater payload and endurance than a ship-launched unmanned surface vehicle, the ability to launch from and recover at a pier, and the elimination of the need to integrate the system with a ship,” reads the report.

Remember the movie War Games? This is starting to all ring a bell. (For those who haven’t seen the movie, Ferris Bueller gets up to far worse shenanigans than you would have thought).

As Motherboard rather worryingly points out, DARPA’s newest toy – which is 90pc complete – comes at a time when Russia is releasing its latest submarine fleet into the world’s seas.

DARPA’s plans are threefold and all, it seems, relate to a pretty big experiment to see just how well equipped modern technology is to sailing autonomously.

First off, DARPA wants to “explore the performance potential” of ships like this. It wants to “advance unmanned maritime system autonomy” and, finally, show that the software and sensors aboard ACTUV “achieve robust continuous track of the quietest submarine targets over their entire operating envelope”.

The ACTUV is set for a two-year trial starting in January or February.

Submarine image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic