The day of the robot warship may be a lot closer than many people think with DARPA announcing that it will christen its Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) on April 9 at the Swan Island shipyard in Portland, Oregon. Also known as the Seahunter, the 139 ft (42 m) long vessel is designed to track potentially hostile submarines for months at a time without a crew.

According to DARPA, the ACTUV is one answer to the problem of modern navies that are shrinking under the pressure of dwindling budgets and the advent of more advanced and sophisticated systems. The idea is that instead of relying on large conventional ships that take years to develop and are increasingly expensive to build and operate, the US Navy could use a mixture of conventional and smaller unmanned ships to confront fast-emerging threats.

In the case of the ACTUV, the current design is a trimaran made to test new sensors and advanced autonomous systems as well as propulsion systems capable of outrunning a diesel sub. In a press conference reported by Digital Trends, the ACTUV can operate for around 30 to 90 days at sea without a crew, while leaving and returning to port on its own.

In addition, DARPA says that it can operate safely and in accordance with maritime laws at only a tenth the cost of a conventional sub hunter, which means that commanders have less to risk by sending it into hazardous waters. Also, it has no need of a conventional ship's dynamic stability and reserve buoyancy, so the design is simpler.

Images published at Foxtrot Alpha show that the ACTUV is already in the water and has been fitted with a temporary pilot house for its upcoming 18 months of sea trials. If the program goes to schedule, the ship may enter service some time in 2017.

The video below outlines the ACTUV program.

View gallery - 2 images