The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s initiative to build a long-endurance unmanned ship that will hunt and track the quietest submarines on Earth has come to fruition. The image above is the first glimpse ever of the potentially revolutionary Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel or ACTUV, also known as Sea Hunter.
Here’s a primer on ACTUV and all its potentially game-changing abilities:
Sea Hunter is being developed in conjunction with the Office of Naval Research and the Space and Naval Systems Warfare Command. Engineering industry innovator Leidos and Oregon Iron Works, which is known for its exotic and shadowy ship designs, designed and constructed the exotic experimental vessel.
The ship is set to be christened in April, but she is already in the water at Portland’s Swan Island ship building and maintenance facility as local photographer Paul Carter, who took the image above, recently discovered.
The 132 foot long robotic sub-hunter is the largest purpose-built unmanned ship ever created. As you can see in the image above, an auxiliary pilot house has been fitted on its sail for initial trials. The design’s trimaran hull was chosen for its stability, efficiency and speed, allowing it chase submarines over extreme distances in open ocean.
What you don’t see is the ship’s under-hull mid-frequency sonar that is installed in a large bulbous protrusion amidships, as well as the high-frequency sonar mounted in smaller underwater protrusions. These will be the ship’s primary tools to find, identify and actively track even the quietest nuclear and air independent propulsion (AIP) equipped diesel-electric subs for long stretches of time.
A suite of data links, computers and sensors will allow it to navigate autonomously, communicate with its handlers and predict a sub’s next moves.
Sea Hunter will undergo a set of increasingly challenging trials over the better part of two years, work that could lead to a fleet of similar drone ships deployed around the globe. Considering the challenges facing the Navy when it comes to the burgeoning threat from relatively cheap diesel submarines, not to mention Russia and China’s plans to expand their sub-sea capabilities dramatically in the coming years and our own nuclear submarine capacity shortfall, the ACTUV concept could give the Navy a relatively inexpensive way to keep tabs on underwater threats around the world. It could also usher in a new era of unmanned sailing on the high seas.
A huge thanks to Paul Carter for this shot of Sea Hunter. Make sure to check out all of Paul’s aviation photography work here.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.