Others might have compared the U.S. Navy trimaran, with its narrow hull and dual floats arching into the water, to a Polynesian outrigger canoe. But regardless of its appearance, the strange-looking vessel tied to the dock may be the future of warfare.
the “Sea Hunter,” is the first fruits of DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel project..
At a ceremony last Thursday in Portland, Oregon, a constellation of senior Department of Defense, Navy and DARPA officials assembled to christen an unmanned anti-submarine warfare ship. The DARPA vessel, christened the “Sea Hunter,” is the first fruits of DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) project. The goal is to develop a highly autonomous ship that can be trusted to basically sail itself to a particular patch of ocean. Equipped with a powerful active sonar, ACTUV can find diesel submarines, whose quiet engines make them hard to detect. Once a sub is detected, the 27-knot ACTUV — or quite possibly a flotilla of ACTUVs — would shadow the target while armed platforms, such as ships and aircraft, are called in to destroy it.
What’s it like to step aboard a robot warship? A media tour of Sea Hunter at the Portland dock revealed a Navy ship hat is familiar in some ways, such as the haze-gray paint and the ladders that are awkward to climb and descend. But while Sea Hunter is 132 feet long, it is only about 11 feet wide (an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is 66 feet wide), creating a ship that feels inhumanly narrow. Then again, the hull can afford to be slender because there is no need to add crew quarters, galleys or the other necessities for flesh and blood; even the bridge on Sea Hunter, which contains a touchscreen for the ship’s controls, is just a temporary convenience for the test engineers that can be removed once the ship goes to sea. The only air conditioning on ACTUV is in the C4N (command, control, communications, computers and navigation) compartment, the server farm that must be chilled to maintain the computers hosting the artificial intelligence (AI) that runs the ship.