DARPA's anti-submarine drone ready to sail in April (VIDEO)

The Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) is developing an unmanned vessel optimized to robustly track quiet diesel electric submarines. © darpa.mil
The Pentagon's research arm will launch a prototype of a 132-foot autonomous, submarine-tracking ship this spring, officials said. The Sea Hunter is designed to hunt and track submarines for weeks on end.

Officials with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said last week that the agency and the contractor Leidos will be ready to unveil Sea Hunter, an unmanned underwater prototype, sometime in April, according to the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA).

The Sea Hunter is part of DARPA's continuous trend toward more drone technology and simpler military systems overall, the agency said following an announcement that the Obama administration has requested nearly $3 billion for DARPA in fiscal year 2017.

“We need to mix it up. We need to build war-fighting architectures that are more heterogeneous in nature, hard to target and rely on smaller and cheaper microelectronics technologies," said Steve Walker, DARPA's deputy director.

The Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program, funded by the US Navy's Office of Naval Research and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, is responsible for Sea Hunter, which displaces about 140 tons. The prototype will be "christened" in Portland, Oregon in April, before an 18-month trial run to test its long-range utility, according to NDIA.

“Imagine an unmanned surface vessel following all the laws of the sea on its own and operating with manned surface and unmanned underwater vehicles,” Walker said, adding that the vessel will save money compared to manned systems currently used by the Navy.

The savings could mean a reduction in operation costs of $15,000 to $20,000 a day for missions the Sea Hunter is designed to do, Ars Technica reported. Currently it costs around $700,00 a day to operate a destroyer.

Sea Hunter could also be used for counter-mine, reconnaissance, and resupply operations, Walker said.

DARPA's ACTUV Tactics Simulator, based on an antisubmarine warfare game Dangerous Waters, was used to amass data on players' successful tactics in tracking submarines. The data was then used in ACTUV tactical software, Ars Technica wrote.