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Posted on March 28, 2011 by  & 

Diesel-electric submarines to be tracked by unmanned marine vessels

Diesel-electric submarines are difficult to track as they are virtually silent and can stay submerged for extended periods of time. As the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) attempts to counter this imposing threat through the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) project, multiple companies have received design contracts for the proposed vessel as the initial phases of the project get underway.
The aim of this project is to design a prototype autonomous vessel that can monitor a submerged submarine for up to 30 days using multiple technologies and without direct human input. The scope is great for innovative design and technology applications so long as they are kept within the specified parameters.
In the first instance the craft must be independent and unmanned with the ability to travel 3000 km from its base and perform its tracking function. Accurate, highly developed sensors and sonar to track the target vessel and to avoid collisions will be a key consideration for developers, as will the ability to keep speed with the target. However, the vessel will not be required to initially locate the intended mark as DARPA programme manager Rob McHenry explains; "It relies on our hunters to hunt and find the submarine, but frees them from being tied down in asset-intensive continuous trail."
Although less high-tech and slower than their nuclear counterparts, diesel-electric submarines are stealthy and are contributing to the emergence of an undersea arms race in the western Pacific as multiple nations acquire diesel-electric subs. Despite the U.S. navy being the largest and most advanced in the world, it could still be threatened by the increase of these surreptitious subs who can remain submerged for days thanks to their batteries. Due to this impending threat the U.S. navy plan to have a prototype developed that can quickly be put into operational use.
Project ACTUV provides a platform opportunity for the application of electric and solar power technologies in autonomous marine vessels. A previous design from an earlier DARPA programme utilised an electric final drive system.
This pilot industrial phase has seen design contracts awarded to Northrop Grumman, SAIC and QinetiQ. Meanwhile sonar development will be untaken by Seattle based Washington Applied Physics Laboratory with Spatial Integrated Systems tackle tracking and collision avoidance algorithms.
Subsequent to the completion of this phase, DARPA will select a single, prime contractor who will complete an 18 month system design and risk reduction phase, followed by a design review, 18 month construction programme and 6 month demonstration period.
which has now been renamed from Future of Electric Vehicles to reflect its unique covering of the whole subject.
Also read the new report Marine Electric Vehicles 2011 - 2021 .
References: Tactical Technology Office, Aviation Week, NDIA
Image source: Aviation Week
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