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The Military

DARPA Is About To Start Testing an Autonomous, Submarine-Hunting Drone (vice.com) 84

merbs writes: Early next year, DARPA will begin testing a 132-foot unmanned submarine-hunting ocean drone in San Diego. Slapped with the cumbersome title of Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV), it's designed to do exactly that: track stealth submarines from the surface, quietly and autonomously. "The 132-foot-long, 140-ton ACTUV is being built by Leidos at the Vigor Shipyard [formerly Oregon Iron Works] in Clackamas, Ore. The vessel is about 90 percent complete. The hardware of the systems is complete, with software being engineered presently." Using one of these drones would cost "about $15,000 to $20,000 per day, compared with a destroyer that costs about $700,000 per day to operate."
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DARPA Is About To Start Testing an Autonomous, Submarine-Hunting Drone

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  • Why couldn't a submarine-hunting drone be a small craft, say, 10 feet long? Such a small craft would be an order of magnitude less expensive, and quicker to produce, than a 130-foot-long vessel.

    • Why couldn't a submarine-hunting drone be a small craft, say, 10 feet long? Such a small craft would be an order of magnitude less expensive, and quicker to produce, than a 130-foot-long vessel.

      Because of the equipment it needs to carry. A propulsion system with the speed and endurance to follow a submarine; now add the additional equipment and structure (vibration isolation, etc) to be silent. Acoustic and other sensor systems to detect a submarine at depth. Today's technology requires the preceding equipment to be a certain size.

      • Wouldn't it be really easy for an enemy to attack these? They're on the surface, so any flying drone can spot them and destroy them. Looks to me like these will only be useful in peace time, if you want to know where the Russian and Chinese subs are without any actual conflict going on. If a war starts, it will be like shooting fish that are floating on top of a barrel.

        • Wouldn't it be really easy for an enemy to attack these? They're on the surface, so any flying drone can spot them and destroy them. Looks to me like these will only be useful in peace time, if you want to know where the Russian and Chinese subs are without any actual conflict going on. If a war starts, it will be like shooting fish that are floating on top of a barrel.

          Depending on the sea state, finding a small boat in miles of ocean can be a seriously difficult problem. I suppose if you know where the submarine the thing is following is the problem is much easier, but as others have pointed out, sending out a search/destroy mission pretty much going to be a dead give away that there really is a submarine here.

          Also, this is a passive system, meaning that the submarine is unlikely to be able to tell they are being monitored. So do you just give away your position because

          • These seem like the ultimate sensor platforms. Yes, you can drop sonobouys (with limited lifetime and capability) or drop some two ton surveillance platform from a CG buoy tender, but this thing can putter off to where you want it and sit there.

            It sure looks like a semi submersible - flood the pontoons and part of the hull, the only thing that sticks up are the antennas. Damned hard to spot. The ocean is really freaking big.

      • I think a fusion of the two ideas would be better. If you separate the search from the destroy function, you can have smaller, dolphin-size drones forward-deployed to search for the enemy. When it finds something, it "radios" back to the mother drone or the crew of a manned submarine, who will then decide whether to attack or continue surveillance.
        • ... smaller, dolphin-size drones forward-deployed to search for the enemy.

          Russian subs can move at a sustained speed of 35 knots, and can go 45 knots for short periods. At that speed, a dolphin-size drone would quickly run out of fuel. To track the sub over the sound of its own engines, the drone would have to use active sonar, so the Russians would know it was there. Before a separate strike vessel could arrive, they could either destroy the drone, or outrun and evade.

          • This problem can be remedied using a mesh or fence of mini-subs spread across a wide area, where an alert from one mini-sub would trigger the monitoring of the next sub along the line. With this approach you can even go virtually fuel-less, just ride out the ocean waves like a jellyfish or naval mine.
            • by tomhath ( 637240 )
              Most of the world's oceans are already covered with cables and microphones. All countries who care already have a general idea of where the subs are located. What's needed is a platform that can navigate to that vicinity and track the sub with enough accuracy to destroy it. That's the job of destroyers today, but they don't do it very well against modern subs.
            • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

              This problem can be remedied using a mesh or fence of mini-subs spread across a wide area, where an alert from one mini-sub would trigger the monitoring of the next sub along the line. With this approach you can even go virtually fuel-less, just ride out the ocean waves like a jellyfish or naval mine.

              And how many would you like to build? smaller platforms = less payload = limitations on the sensors & communications & fuel & engine.

    • Re:Why so big? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @02:05AM (#50906905)

      I think you just invented the torpedo...

      • Indeed and like an early torpedo, it's strictly limited to travelling on the surface.

        From TFA:

        This includes autonomous compliance with maritime laws

        Yeah, right; it'll stop and offer assistance when other vessels send out distress calls?

      • Torpedoes do their jobs just fine, and with today's miniature electronics, there should be plenty of room for the cargo. The one limitation might be space for fuel, but with a small craft, not as much fuel is needed, so I doubt you need a 130 foot vessel just for that!

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Hull speed, for one thing. The speed in knots of a displacement hull is roughly 1.3 * sqrt(length at waterline in feet). So ~4 knots for a 10 ft hull. A modern sub can do 30 knots.

      Never mind the sea-keeping problems of a 10 ft boat in open ocean swells.

      • The speed in knots of a displacement hull is roughly 1.3 * sqrt(length at waterline in feet).

        Engine (or oar, or sail) power doesn't factor into it at all?

        • by Punko ( 784684 )
          The maximum speed is what he is referring to. You can go faster on the water, by planing (essentially skipping across the surface) but heavy or deep hulls do not plane, and so are limited to the maximum hull speed above, regardless of the power of the engines.
        • Isn't that a function of bow and stern wave interaction? Isn't that eliminated for a fully submerged object? Witness SWIFT and SWATH catamaran designs?

          • Catamarans and foils are considered planing boats for this argument. Look at the sailing foils - they seem to have exactly six inches of carbon fiber actually in the water. There is a limit to how big multihulls / foils can get - it gets bigger all of the time but typically at the expense of weight. They are basically aircraft in design and construction (and cost). So far, this hasn't worked out well for naval designers that like to put two hundred men and women, multiple tons of things that go boom and

            • Oh, and displacement values for cats / trimerans include the total of the lengths of the sponsons. So a 50 foot catamaran has roughly double the displacement speed of a monohull.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Its a big floating wireless version of the very traditional sound surveillance system (SOSUS) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    • It needs to be able to survive on the Ocean, which is not a great place for small craft to hang out in for month+ long periods of time. Plus equipment, and fuel for said month+ long periods of time.
      • For human occupants, yes. But equipment doesn't need as much stability, it can be fastened down.

        The fuel thing I get.

    • Stability.
  • The drones can only do better than current situation, where a french submarine was able to virtually sink a US carrier during an joint drill [rt.com]
    • by iainr ( 43602 )

      Did they use the ususal ruse of having the First officer affecting a Peter Sellers Indian voice on the radio and pretending to be a cruise ship or did they come up with something new?

      • In this drill, the french submarine was playing the role of an hostile country. It was able to sneak below the US carrier without raising any alarm. Since it was not detected, it was able to sink the carrier and its escort. The article does not say if the submarine would have been able to escape from the field without being identified afterwards.

        A decade years-old submarine able to destroy billions of US Navy gear, that is no good news.

  • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @01:43AM (#50906861)

    Just wait until the software has a glitch and it zeroes in on a container carrier or a cruise ship and blows it out of the water.

    But don't worry- I'm sure that'll be fixed in ver. 2.0, after it sinks half the ships in the Atlantic Ocean.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This technology makes the world a less safe place. Happy now?

      The russians will counter with the ICBM-carrying drone subs that launches when it is discovered.

    • Worse. The programmer will be a millennial who will want to do the navigation control and decision making using Javascript. What can go wrong? :-)
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      At work another group has been developing some map based software to manage data loggers. The loggers can be programmed with the GPS coordinates of where they are deployed, but sometimes they are not so they send the default value of 0,0, which is somewhere in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa. Before they added some code to hide them, we had a small mountain of data loggers floating in the ocean.

      This got me thinking about the future where we have more and more drones with greater and greater range. I ex

    • But don't worry- I'm sure that'll be fixed in ver. 2.0

      If America is actively targeting and attacking Russian submarines, that means that WWIII has started, and there ain't gonna be no version 2.0.

  • "Nomad"

  • I heard on the news that due to the actions of SMJWs[1] Sea World is dropping the orca displays. And they have a park where? San Diego.

    Coincidence? I think not.

    [1] Sea Mammal Justice Warriors

  • The hardware of the systems is complete, with software being engineered presently

    No need for the drug runners to worry for a while yet, then...ironing out the bugs will probably take a few years

  • by Feral Nerd ( 3929873 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @06:21AM (#50907315)

    Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV)

    To all our American friends. I have always admired your ability to invent insanely complicated and nonsensical names for things in order to produce a nice ancronym but now I am quite frankly disappointed. This one compares badly to your usual work, it is mediocre at best. You guys really need to get your act together.

    • Autonomous/Automatic Sardine Can Opener. Pronounced ass-cow.

      Or stick Chinese/Commie in front and say cash-cow. It probably will be, to somebody.

  • This has some interesting advantages over current systems.

    It's will much quieter then a manned destroyer. No plumbing, no laundry, no kitchen, no people talking and moving around. Therefore, it's intrinsically more stealthy and much harder for an enemy to detect. Since it generates less noise it will also be a much more sensitive listening post. That's why they can say it can track the newer generation of quiet non-nuclear powered submarines. The plumbing in a reactor is hard to mask acoustically, which is

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      The positive news is local contractors get decades of jobs creating, building and refitting the drones.
      Re "It would be awfully tempting for a naval power like Russia or China to try and nab one on the high seas to find out what makes it tick"
      Human spies deep in the US would have seen/been sitting in on the conception, funding and final design. Thats the good part about having generations of human spies deep in governments vs a digital "collect it all" system to try and spy on ports.
      Re "to find out what
      • by Zak3056 ( 69287 )

        A well designed modern sub would never allow itself to be seen by any standalone fancy floating network device. Anything on the surface will not get depth at any power setting or just by been passive and super sensitive.

        If only there were some way to pull your hydrophones on multi-kilometer long cables and allow them to sink below the thermocline [wikipedia.org] then maybe such a vessel would be useful...

        Think back to all the war games where underfunded, old subs sneak around with gifted crews from 2nd and 3rd rate nations to get into the middle of complex layers of the best surface ships the US can design and win every time :)

        If only there were a way to track submarines using autonomous drones to supplement the destroyers in the carrier's screen [slashdot.org] you might be able to change that...

        • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
          re "then maybe such a vessel would be useful..."
          "If only there were a way"
          So all the small nations that win during big war games are been allowed to win? So they go home with a feel good win rather than a certificate of participation (detection)?
          Social promotion for the other nations subs efforts? Do they know they are been tracked all the time when trying to be so very sneaky? Or are they still totally fooled into thinking they really got deep into the protected areas with their old subs?
          • by Zak3056 ( 69287 )

            I'm suggesting that if what you're saying is correct (and I have no reason to disbelieve you, I know it's been done once already) then beefing up the ASW effort with autonomous drones would likely be an effective countermeasure. The bit about the towed array sonars was in response to your suggestion that subs could just go deep to avoid detection by a surface vessel.

            Drones + towed arrays = improved fleet survival. Enough to matter? Unknown at this point.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Wednesday November 11, 2015 @09:08AM (#50907701) Journal

    The USs tech advantage is most pronounced in combat aircraft and subs. Enabling a tech that cheaply hunts/kills subs substantially attacks that advantage.

    Not that it would stop development if DARPA didn't do it, but this tech probably has the largest potential to harm the US of any country. Considering our sieve-like computer security and that apparently every advanced tech the US develops seems to be almost instantly aped by China and/or Russia, DARPA's essentially doing research for them.

  • We already have the capacity to "track" submarines with a very well placed set of stationary listening stations. This sonar net covers the Atlantic very well and is pretty good in the Pacific. We can routinely track submarines general locations now, and I'm fairly sure we do. So that begs the question, what is this sub-hunting drone thing really good for?

    I don't think we need it to track submarines in the open ocean, but we need to more easily search for them in shallow congested waters. Right now the de

  • Sounds pretty inconspicuous to me...

    Also sounds like the beginning of a Monty Python sketch... when the countermeasures are to build fake submarine drones for the other drones to follow, and by the end there are just a whole lot of drones following each other in an infinite loop around the oceans to the Benny Hill theme song...

A successful [software] tool is one that was used to do something undreamed of by its author. -- S. C. Johnson

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