When it comes to planning for the next possible conflict, military planners are often forced to take into account emerging trends in technology, and find both uses and countermeasures for them. And when it comes to future wars at sea, possibly fought in the Straight of Hormuz or the Sea of Japan, a number of startling developments are being taken into account, and solutions drawn up!
One such “solution” is the new robot sub-hunter being jointly created by the Science Applications International Corporation and DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. That unmanned maritime robot, called the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vehicle, or ACTUV, doesn’t exist yet and won’t for years. But the SAIC’s plan does have the backing it needs, and presents an idea that is likely to inspire fear in submariners everywhere!
For one, the unmanned vehicle will be capable of operating for periods ranging between 60 and 90 days, significantly longer than any aerial drone is capable of staying airborne. What’s more, SAIC is designing the ACTUV to be way more autonomous than contemporary drone aircraft. Once powered up, all a ship need do is release the drone and allow it to rely on its long-range acquisition sonar and other advanced sensors to scan for submarines, while at the same time steering clear of any nearby surface ships.
And then there is the advanced technology powering the drone’s sonar arrays. Unlike other ships, the ACTUV’s sensors create an acoustic image of its target to know it has the right one. Once the ACTUV thinks it’s got something, it pings nearby Navy ships through a satellite link, which they can either confirm or deny, either giving the ship the green light to hunt or instructions to search elsewhere.
And last, but not least, the ACTUV can operate alongside its surface fleet, remain in constant communication with a mothership as well as naval aircraft as they deploy sonar charges to help it hunt subs. This is a level of coordination that is rarely seen in aerial drones, which are either sent into action far from the front lines or controlled remotely by infantry in the field to offer fire support.
Ah, but there’s one thing: the drone isn’t armed. Primarilyy developed to help Naval ships with hunting silent subs and/or cheap diesel-electric models, the ship may be capable of operating autonomously, but cannot take action to end lives. This feature may be the result of the Pentagon’s recent decision to limit the killing powers of UAV and autonomous drones, which amounted to ensuring that a human being will always be at the helm wherever the death of human beings is involved.
What’s more, the drone is designed with all kinds of futuristic and present-day scenarios in mind. While silent subs – ones that use advanced drive systems to generate little to no noise (a la The Hunt for Red October) – are one likely scenario, there is also the possibility of the US Navy running into the cheap diesel models which are technologically inferior, but can be much quieter and harder to track than anything nuclear. Russia is known to sell them and Iran claims to have them, so any military analyst worth his salt would advise being prepared to meet them wherever they present themselves.
And of course, the SAIC was sure to create a video showing the ACTUV in action: