Be Prepared, China and Russia: The Navy’s Robot Sub-hunter is Getting Closer


DARPA’s prototype automated warship, Sea Hunter, has been handed over to the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The move was made to help with further development of the robot submarine chaser. It is predicted that the vessel may join the fleet this year. The ONR seeks to further develop the prototype until it can meet the criteria of being MDUSV (Medium Displacement, Unmanned Surface Vehicle). The prototype was first developed as part of DARPA’s ACTUV (Anti-submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel) project. The project’s main goal is to come up with a crewless vessel that should be able to travel distant waters, searching for diesel submarines.

While the vessel does not carry any form of weapons, it is fitted with a power sonar device. The second Sea Hunter detects a target, it can keep up with said target’s speed while maintaining contact to the point where armed planes or ships arrive to get it all done. The vessel is presented no bigger than a yacht at 132 feet long, 11 feet wide, and weighs 145 tons. Its maximum speed is 27 knots with a range of 9000 nautical miles at 15 knots, 4000 nautical miles at 18 knots, and 2.800 nautical miles at 24 knots.

Sea Hunter can operate in Sea State 5 (8 to 13-foot waves) and is able to survive Sea State 7 (20 to 30-foot waves. The vessel can stay on a mission for 70 days, without anyone aboard. The vessel is fitted with an AI that is intended to be its captain and crew all at the same time. A human operator can take over command from an on-shore control station. The vessel was christened in Portland, Oregon. But a more pressing question would be with all the features and capabilities will it actually work?

Sea Hunter is perfect for antisubmarine warfare as it is a task that is slow, tedious, and painstaking—befitting a robot. An automated sub hunter with a long range could do the job and a squadron of these vessels would yield far greater results as they can easily keep track on elusive targets, which are arguably less sophisticatedly constructed than the sub hunters. DARPA once tested the vessel, equipping it with gears for minesweeping and sensors that are tethered airborne. This opens another door to a different opportunity: Weaponizing the vessels is actually plausible. DARPA, however, shows no plan of weaponizing the vessel.