The autonomous vessels will be able to track enemy submarines at a far smaller cost than a nuclear submarine, the current detterent to such incursions.

27 March 2015

The U.S. Navy is moving closer to deploying robotic anti-submarine ships, “ghost hunters” that will silently sail the ocean while searching for and deterring diesel-electric submersibles.

Earlier this year, the submarine hunter program, dubbed Anti-submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, or ACTUV, according to Defense One, passed a critical test, proving the concept in action. Over the course of six weeks, the submarine hunting test boat was exposed to more than 100 different scenarios, completing a self-guided trip while avoiding a variety of obstacles, including intentionally erratic surface ships. Future tests will require the submarine hunter to tail a target boat from a distance of one kilometer.

Diesel-electric submarines are notoriously difficult to track, as the Daily Mail points out, due to the nearly silent nature of their engines. With a low relative price tag of between $200 million to $300 million apiece, the submarines are affordable to governments in a multitude of nations, including Iran, which claims to have a fleet of 17. North Korea possesses the world’s largest fleet of submarines, as the Inquisitr has previously reported, though many of the vessels are obsolete Chinese and Russian models.
Program manager Ellison Urban, of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), discussed the necessity of the robotic submarine hunting boats while speaking at a National Defense Association Event in Virginia, highlighting the cost to benefit ratio of the system.
“Instead of chasing down these submarines and trying to keep track of them with expensive nuclear powered-submarines, which is the way we do it now, we want to try and build this at significantly reduced cost. It will be able to transit by itself across thousands of kilometers of ocean and it can deploy for months at a time. It can go out, find a diesel-electric submarine and just ping on it.”
If successfully implemented, the system could revolutionize the way that oceanic warfare is waged, redefining interactions between robotic systems and human-operated vessels. The next great challenge for the system, which was initially announced by DARPA in 2010, will be to operate autonomously while a mock enemy vessel tries to interfere with its operations.
The recent tests were conducted over a 35-mile-stretch of sea and proved that the robotic ships can operate among other vessels without violating maritime regulations governing collision avoidance. The trials also represented a proof-of-concept for ocean-deployed robotic learning systems, proving that the submarine hunters can operate autonomously and independently.