Wednesday, July 17, 2013

U.S. Navy's New Tool? The Unmanned Submarine Follower

Ah, robots!

Faced with high ship building, operating and personnel costs, the U.S. Navy tasks the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) to come up with some help in the hard job of keeping track of quiet diesel- electric submarines for long periods. DARPA has responded with s plan for something called the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV). DARPA says:
The program is structured around three primary goals:

  1. Explore the performance potential of a surface platform conceived from concept to field demonstration under the premise that a human is never intended to step aboard at any point in its operating cycle. As a result, a new design paradigm emerges with reduced constraints on conventional naval architecture elements such as layout, accessibility, crew support systems, reserve buoyancy and dynamic stability. The objective is to generate a vessel design that exceeds state-of-the art platform performance to provide complete propulsive overmatch against diesel electric submarines at a fraction of their size and cost.
  2. Advance unmanned maritime system autonomy to enable independently deploying systems capable of missions spanning thousands of kilometers of range and months of endurance under a sparse remote supervisory control model. This includes autonomous compliance with maritime laws and conventions for safe navigation, autonomous system management for operational reliability, and autonomous interactions with an intelligent adversary.
  3. Demonstrate the capability of the ACTUV system to use its unique characteristics to employ non-conventional sensor technologies that achieve robust continuous track of the quietest submarine targets over their entire operating envelope.
So, as reported in the Navy League's Sea Power magazine:
DARPA selected six industry proposals for the ACTUV concept in January 2010 for Phase 1 of the program, the concept definition phase. In August 2012, DARPA selected Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) to design, construct and demonstrate an ACTUV prototype under the next three phases of the program under a $58 million contract. SAIC “proposed a trimaran platform: key features and innovations for the vessel, sensors, autonomy and
software. The scope of the program includes developing and testing a Remote Supervisory Control System,” Littlefield said.

In March, Raytheon Co. announced that it had been selected by SAIC to provide the sonar system for the ACTUV. The Modular Scalable Sonar System (MS3), a fifth-generation development of the company’s 30-yearold medium-frequency, hull-mounted SQS-56 sonar will have both active and passive acoustic search, detection, passive threat filtering, localization and tracking capabilities. It also will provide torpedo detection and alert and avoidance of small objects.
DARPA ACTUV Simulator Screen Shot

*** The ACTUV’s sonar will need to be autonomous, performing the difficult task of submarine tracking without an operator directing its operation. It will need sophisticated algorithms for automatic tracking, including maintaining a low false-target detection rate. The sonar also will help the ACTUV observe the rules of safe navigation applicable to any vessel at sea.
If this concept works, it will be quite the force enhancer.

UPDATE: DARPA want you to have fun exploring this concept - with its Can You Outsmart an Enemy Submarine Commander? bit, including a chance to run through a simulator.

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