DARPA robotic sub hunter

DARPA has awarded the contracts for its robotic sub-hunter project called the ACTUV. ACTUV will be an umanned surface warship tasked with locating and trailing hostile submarines, keeping tabs on their movements.

One day, ACTUV might be armed and assigned kill missions — but for now the mission is strictly “Look, don’t touch.”

The USA will use robotic sub hunters to counter $100 million to $1 billion diesel electric submarines with Air independent propulsion (AIP). AIP submarines can stay underwater for months and can be quieter than even nuclear submarines.

DARPA awarded the ACTUV contract to prime contractor Leidos. Leidoa is one half of the defense contractor formerly known as SAIC. (Note: The other half of that company inherited the company name, and remains SAIC today.) In so doing, DARPA listed several requirements for ACTUV. Among them, ACTUV must be:

  • Cheap. It should be only “a fraction” of the size of a diesel sub, and a fraction of a sub’s cost as well.
  • Long-legged. ACTUV will need to range “thousands of kilometers” across the seas, for “months” at a time.
  • Independent. Manned operators will have only “sparse” ability to keep tabs on ACTUV, so the vessel must be able to conduct its mission autonomously, robotically following all “maritime laws and conventions for safe navigation” even as it maneuvers to keep track of “an intelligent adversary.”

ACTUV must be able to fulfill its mission, and maintain “robust continuous track of the quietest submarine targets over their entire operating envelope.”

Leidos hired Raytheon to develop a Modular Scalable Sonar System (MS3) for ACTUV — the “eyes” (or rather, ears) that it will use to identify and track enemy submarines — for mounting aboard its trimaran prototype (construction of which was in turn subcontracted to Oregon Iron Works). Raytheon says it delivered a completed MS3 system to Leidos in November.