The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) revealed back in 2010 that is was building an unmanned autonomous, submarine-hunting war machine. Essentially, the program was building a drone for naval warfare.

Now, DARPA has announced that its program is ready for live trials.

The Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, or ACTUV (pronounced as active) is scheduled to launch on April 17 from the Vigor Shipyards in Oregon. It will conduct sea-trials for 18 months following its maiden voyage, where it will begin tests for its long-range tracking and self-driving functions.

The eventual objective of ACTUV is to be able to track down enemy submarines in shallow waters. It is designed to operate autonomously for two to three months and eliminate the need for human crew members to guide and operate it. This lack of human crew will also reduce the chance for human error while it is searching for potential threats.

Its launching and trials are but a small part of of the Pentagon’s ongoing Third Offset strategy, which was devised to help the U.S. maintain superiority over rising military powers like China and Russia, which are both involved in regions that include large swathes of international waters.

The Pentagon is dedicating a staggering $18 billion to the effort.


The ACTUV itself is unarmed, but the ship can be used on scouting mission wherein it will locate spying adversaries before other ships are deployed, preventing actual human lives from falling into danger.

Its daily cost of operation is lower than that of other sea vessels with ACTUV costing around $15,000 to $20,000 per day, according to a Sea Magazine report. In contrast, a destroyer costs about $700,000 per day to operate.

Other advantages of the ACTUV include greater payload and endurance than a ship-launched unmanned surface vehicle, its ability to launch from and recover at a pier, and the elimination of the need to integrate the system with a ship.

Naval operations for ACTUV isn't restricted to locating submarines. The Navy is also considering using it to locate mines, supply other U.S. naval vehicles and provide logistics in operations. At just 140 tons and 132 feet in length, ACTUV is relatively small for a warship, which can allow naval forces to utilize it in deploying in a variety of waters and situations.

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