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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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