The U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) unveiled the Sea Hunter – a robotic, autonomous war ship being tested for the Navy that features a composite hull and a foam core with fiberglass skin. The 132-foot-long warship, developed under DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program, is intended to search for submarines at sea as long as three months at a time.
DARPA says the ship was built with composites in order to absorb high amounts of stress while remaining incredibly sturdy. Leidos, the company DARPA contracted to build the Sea Hunter, drew inspiration from Polynesian history for the ship’s design. The composite construction of the ship resembles a Polynesian war canoe – with a long, slim hull supported by outboard pontoons connected by outriggers.
According to ACTUV program manager Scott Littlefield, the ship is far more than just a “remote control boat,” emphasizing the Sea Hunter’s “high degree of autonomy.” However, he added that while computers will drive and control the ship, a human will always be observing and will be able to take charge if necessary.
During the warship’s official christening ceremony in Portland, Ore., last week, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said the Sea Hunter represents breakthroughs in autonomous navigation and human-machine collaboration that could change the nature of U.S. maritime operations.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” Work said. “I’m on a ship that looks like a Klingon bird of prey. It’s haze gray. If you look up front at the pilot house, you’ll notice big bolts. You can take that pilot house off and this ship can operate autonomously.”
Littlefield projects construction costs for the ship between $22 million and $23 million dollars, with the ultimate goal of selling ships in the Sea Hunter series at $20 million a copy.
“Not cheap, but not as expensive as a manned warship,” said Littlefield.