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Unmanned frigates would stalk enemy submarines continuously with no crew onboard

The U.S. military has made no secret of its vision to field an ever increasing number of automated and unmanned vehicles onto the battlefield. The use of these vehicles reduces the risk to human life and without a human aboard the vehicle, the design can be better optimized for the mission.

The military has used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for as long time for long-range recon and for attacking ground targets. The UAVs allow surveillance missions to last longer and UAVs can also be made smaller than aircraft that require a human pilot onboard. The U.S. military is also looking to field robotic soldiers to replace human soldiers in areas of high conflict. Robots are already used in the military for searching out bombs and infiltrating tight quarters where the danger is too high for a human.

Unmanned vehicles may soon come to the oceans of the world as well thanks to a new DARPA project that will introduce unmanned frigates for long missions that closely and overtly shadow enemy diesel-electric submarines. The vessels are dubbed Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessels or ACTUVs.

The program is detailed in a long document from DARPA that outlines an industry day conference that is unclassified and set to be held on February 16, 2010 in Arlington, Virginia. The purpose of the program is to build an "X-ship" that is capable of operating without any human on board at any point in its operations cycle. The program is also seeking to demonstrate how viable a system under "sparse remote supervisory control" will be. A final goal of the program is to demonstrate the anti-submarine capability of the vessel along with a suite of sensors for the craft. The ship is designed for global independent deployment for months at a time with no human interaction onboard.

The DARPA ACTUV industry day paper [PDF] points out that the unmanned craft are intended to be launched and recovered from manned ships and teleoperated from manned ships and will be limited to direct support of manned missions. A key to the program is a demonstration that the unmanned vehicle can navigate safely at sea within the framework of maritime law and International Regulations for Avoiding Collisions at Sea.

The program is also expected to allow naval architects to revise the design of surface craft offered by the ability to eliminate all crew concession from the ship design. DARPA reports that the design may have relaxed reserve buoyancy margins, dynamic stability limits, and new platform orientation assumptions. Basically, the program will allow ship designers to remove all performance and design constraints placed on a surface vessel that has to carry human occupants. The platform must have a sufficient range for theater or global deployment and a speed, endurance, and maneuverability advantage over its target set. The design must also be able to tolerate rough seas effectively and be capable of near-term transition to operational employment.

DARPA will conduct the program in four phases. Phase one will be a concept exploration, system architecture studies, system concept design, and preliminary performance evaluations. Multiple awards will be given to participants ranging from $500,000 for concept studies or limited architecture to $2,000,000 for a full system concept design and operations analysis.

Phase two of the program is anticipated to fund one award through Critical Design Review and have a duration of 18 months. Phase three will be to build an integrated prototype vessel and conduct initial sea trials and is expected to have a duration of 18 months. Phase 3 will be awarded as a firm-fixed-price option. Phase four will be to conduct mission-oriented sea trials and experiments. The final phase will be followed by full transition of subsequent test and acquisition activity to the Navy.

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By drycrust3 on 2/10/2010 2:58:43 PM , Rating: 2
Since this boat is supposed to run indefinitely, my guess is it uses wind and maybe solar as it's power supply. Maybe this boat would be better used for things like weather forecasting.
Also, not having any crew means there isn't anyone to hold hostage if the boat "wanders" into Iranian waters.
As happened when that US Spy Plane landed in China, if a boat was captured then it would have a large number of technical experts going through it bit by bit (or should I say "byte by byte"?), and there isn't any guarantee it will even be returned.

RE: Sailing.
By carigis on 2/10/2010 3:03:34 PM , Rating: 3
Thats what the self destruct button is for..

RE: Sailing.
By MozeeToby on 2/10/2010 3:11:23 PM , Rating: 2
You jest but there are plenty of pieces of military hardware that will fuse their circuits when certain criteria are met.

RE: Sailing.
By JediJeb on 2/10/2010 4:51:58 PM , Rating: 3
If unmanned would not need to just fuse circuit boards, could be loaded with enough explosives to take out anyone trying to tamper with it and a good portion of the surrounding area.

RE: Sailing.
By wvh on 2/11/10, Rating: 0
RE: Sailing.
By porkpie on 2/11/2010 9:11:57 PM , Rating: 3
How many countries have submarines? Oh, let's start with:

North Korea
Peoples Republic of China
Republic of China
South Africa
South Korea
United Kingdom
United States

How many of those are hostile? I'll leave that up to you.

In the meantime, let's be sure to all beat our swords into plowshares, since obviously no war will ever occur again. Right?

RE: Sailing.
By Murloc on 2/10/2010 4:42:41 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think it would use wind, remember that it has to stay behind submarines and follow them in any situation.
They can be small.

Anyway it's not too difficult to put something in it that fuses the circuits when you try to disassemble it without something to tell it that it's legitimate.

RE: Sailing.
By InternetGeek on 2/10/2010 5:27:26 PM , Rating: 2
Couldn't you just xray the thing?

RE: Sailing.
By delphinus100 on 2/11/2010 3:40:11 AM , Rating: 2
Indeed, if no one's aboard, isn't it legally free for salvage under maritime laws?

RE: Sailing.
By Rugar on 2/11/2010 9:41:03 AM , Rating: 2
Yes. It's an interesting point since current International Maritime law doesn't allow for the possibility of remote controlled or autonomous vehicles as far as I know. Would be an interesting case to argue...

RE: Sailing.
By Calin on 2/11/2010 9:25:53 AM , Rating: 2
Can't use wind and solar power - remember that a submarine can be a very fast customer (I don't know, but 30 knots should be attainable). No way you could follow one with a wind-propelled ship (especially in storms or when becalmed).
And solar is not a good enough energy source - an Arleigh Burke Navy destroyer has about 75 MW peak power, with - let's say 20 MW used for typical steaming). To get 20 MW of solar power, you need 20 millions square meters, I think.
As for wind, sails would only take you so fast (and not up-wind), and remember how big and tall are the wind turbines.

RE: Sailing.
By porkpie on 2/11/2010 3:13:44 PM , Rating: 2
"As for wind, sails would only take you so fast (and not up-wind)"

Amazing how many people don't know this. In a wind-powered ship, you can't just point the helm any direction you want to go. With the best rigging and best conditions, there's always at least a 90 degree angle through which you can't sail. (For some of the old square-rigged ships, it could as much as 180 degrees...a ship could sometimes sit for weeks in a harbor just waiting for the wind to allow it to leave)

"remember that a submarine can be a very fast customer (I don't know, but 30 knots should be attainable"

For a nuclear fast attack sub. Your average diesel-electric customer is about half that.

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