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 ACTUV is currently under construction at a facility on the Oregon coast, where it is 90 percent complete. When finished, DARPA hopes it will be able to withstand months of autonomous operations at sea. It will weigh 140 tons, and will be able to hone in the quietest submarines in the water from the surface, and automatically trail them.
The vessel is so far not necessarily being touted explicitly as a weapon, but, according to DARPA, it will have the capacity to "carry a payload" and “enable independently deploying systems.” On the US DoD’s science site, the vessel is being compared to naval destroyers, which are currently tasked with trailing—and are outfitted to eliminate—submarines. (According to DARPA, one of the ACTUV's chief selling points is that it will be much cheaper than a naval destroyer: The drone boat costs as little as $15,000 a day to operate, versus the destroyer’s $700,000 per day price tag.)