DARPA awards contracts for Manta Ray autonomous submarine program
Diving into the autonomous submarine race, DARPA has awarded contracts to three companies as part of its Manta Ray Program. Intended to support a new generation of long-duration, long-range Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), the end goal is to produce robotic vehicles that can operate for months without maintenance or human logistics support.
UUVs have advanced so far and so fast in the past 20 years that today major navies like those of the US and the UK are developing vehicles that are so large and so long-range that they are essentially unmanned versions of conventional submarines with the crew spaces removed.
The problem is that sailors are aboard their boats for a reason, which means that future UUVs need to be able to maintain themselves and do without humans to provide logistical support like refueling. This would mean that commanders would have more capabilities at their disposal without being hampered by the UUVs being dependent on manned vessels and ports that would reduce the hosts' flexibility and availability.
To achieve this, DARPA has awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories, Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation, and Navatek LLC to develop the technology needed for long-duration UUV missions with additional help from Metron, Inc, which is working on undersea energy harvesting.
DARPA says the Manta Ray Program is looking at not only new energy management and harvesting systems to increase operational ranges, but also low-power propulsion systems, new capabilities to detect and classify or counter threats, the ability to operate in the open ocean under varied conditions, more advanced command and control systems, and new ways to reduce fouling and corrosion.
Once Manta Ray has completed all three phases of development, the final product will be a demonstration vehicle that can operate in the rough conditions of the open sea.
"The Manta Ray program aims to increase at-sea operational capacity and capabilities for the combatant commander while minimizing disruptions to current operations by remaining independent of crewed vessels and ports once deployed," says Commander Kyle Woerner, the Manta Ray program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. "If successful, this new class of UUVs would allow operational flexibility and relief of workload for both traditional host ships and servicing ports."