DARPA has just developed an unmanned stealth ship that can track down enemy submarines at speeds of up to 27 knots, although the true top speed is likely classified. Named the ACTUV for Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, it was designed to sail along manned ships detecting for dangers in the water below according to Gizmodo. Not having a crew means that the machine isn't limited by operating hours and this removes the potential dangers from navigating dangerous sea states and enemy coastal regions. The U.S. Navy hasn't determined exactly how they want to use this new autonomous vehicle, but they are currently investigating into its possible channels of use.
The ACTUV program has three main goals as set forth by DARPA in order to effectively create a useful autonomous warship. The first being to explore the viability of an unmanned surface warfare platforms that would enable traversing areas where the risk to human safety would otherwise be too high. Secondly, they would like to advance the knowledge around autonomous naval vessels to further the ability to carry out unmanned missions over the course of many thousands of kilometers. Laslty, DARPA hopes to demonstrate that an unmanned craft can employ non-traditional sensors to actively track submersible targets effectively and at long ranges. All of this, essentially, to take humans out of naval warfare and bring autonomous activity into various naval platforms.
ACTUV may also serve as an exploratory technology into further development of minimally manned ships like the U.S. Navy's new DDG-1000 destroyer that features a crew of 175 sailors for a 150 meter ship.
[Image Source: DARPA]
Fitted with outriggers on both sides, the ACTUV will use these devices to maintain superior stabilization in heavy sea states, enhancing its versatility to continue in unmanned operations. A key to staying afloat and autonomous is decreasing the need for maintenance as well as refueling, something that DARPA has hopefully succeeded in with this new craft.
[Image Source: DARPA]
The ship can be remote controlled, but the system was designed to operate mostly autonomously with control only being maintained in close proximity to manned ships and coastal regions. Testing is still being performed on DARPA's new tech, and the ultimate fait of the ship is still yet to be seen. Removing the need for manned ships in modern navies is an advancement that is being pushed forward on all fronts. The road however will be long and arduous given the many variables and constraints presented by sea travel.