In what is seen as the US’ growing appetite for futuristic military hardware, the country is now eyeing a submarine that never runs out of power. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is already working on ‘Manta Ray’ robotic submarine that could address challenges of energy management.   

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DARPA had last week awarded contracts to aerospace giant Northrop Grumman and defense company Martin Defense Group for the development of the demonstration versions of Manta Ray unmanned underwater vehicle.

A separate contract was also awarded to Metron, which will be tasked with providing the submarine with an energy-harvesting system to power it indefinitely. This will enable the robot submarine to carry out missions that could last for months or years without a refuel.

According to DARPA, under the project that began last year, it will look to demonstrate innovative technologies with an aim to allow payload-capable unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) to operate on long-duration, long-range missions in ocean environments.

This is the second round of funding for the project and is a sign that the program is on schedule.

The submarine program will aim to address critical challenges spanning energy management, UUV reliability, biofouling, corrosion control, navigation, underwater obstacle avoidance, and many other areas that could boost the operations of the US Navy.

According to Commander Kyle Woerner, the program manager for the Manta Ray, the program will try finding solutions to improving the endurance of UUVs.

“Manta Ray performers have each taken unique approaches to solve the wide range of challenges related to UUV endurance. To me, this is a clear sign we are tackling a complex problem without a clear ‘one size fits all’ solution,” Woerner said.

According to reports, the Manta Ray submarine could be able to carry a small towed sonar array for submarine detection, acoustic sensors for placing on the seabed, or electronic warfare equipment.

The new submarine will possess artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to identify and respond to other vessels and submarines, along with other sensors.

Importantly, the submarine will have an unusual shape as compared to other robot submarines, with the UUV aiming to harvest energy from the sea to recharge itself.

The unique shape of the submarine will help make it more stealthy in order to avoid being detected. The Manta Ray will reportedly need minimum drag in the water body.

“The goals of this new class of the undersea vehicles and its critical component technologies are to inform, as well as transition into, future Navy UUV efforts,” said Woerner.

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