Keeping America Safe

Meet Sea Hunter | The Navy’s New Autonomous Warship

Photo credit: ‘Sea Hunter gets underway on the Willamette River following a christening ceremony in Portland, Ore.’ by John F. Williams. CC-BY 2.0.

The reversal of the global perception of America as a declining superpower is a major ambition of President Donald J. Trump. In step with campaign promises, Trump intends to make “…our military so big, so powerful, so strong, that nobody – absolutely nobody – is going to mess with us.” President Trump has ordered reviews of military readiness and has set an agenda to boost Defense funds and rebuild the U.S. military. Without a doubt, superpower countries, such as China and Russia, are taking note of Trump’s call for military growth and increased spending. Adding to foreign anxiety is America’s recent development of Sea Hunter, a cutting-edge autonomous unmanned surface vehicle designed to hunt enemy submarines.

Christened amid fanfare in April of 2016, the U.S. Navy’s Sea Hunter drone was launched as part of the DARPA Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program. Built at the cost of 20 million dollars, the 40-meter long trimaran was created as an experimental “Sea-ship,” along with others such as Sea Shadow, Sea Fighter, and Sea Slice. The U.S. Navy’s use of sea drones with advanced submarine hunting capabilities has become necessary to maintain advantage. In recent years, China has been aggressively expanding its sub fleet, while Russia has revamped submarines and purportedly is creating a long-range nuclear super torpedo.

Sea Hunter is a marvel of technology, powered by two diesel engines with a top speed of 27 knots. The unmanned self-piloting craft features twin screws and a central hull and two outriggers. Statistics show that the vessel weighs an estimated 135 tons, including 40 tons of fuel, and is adequate for a 70-day cruise. Cruising range is “transoceanic,” 10,000 nautical miles at 12 knots fully fueled. Per, DARPA program manager, Scott Littlefield, explains, “You could go from San Diego to Guam and back to Pearl Harbor on a tank of gas.” Sea Hunter is intended to be operational through Sea State 5, waves up to 6.5 feet high and winds up to 21 knots, and survivable through Sea State 7, or seas up to 20 ft. high.

Preliminary performance tests of Sea Hunter’s collision avoidance system have been highly successful. There is confidence in the mechanical system’s reliability in an open-ocean environment. The ship can patrol without human help, using optical guidance and radar to avoid other sea crafts. Initial tests have been completed with humans on board for safety and backup. The implementation of a suite of sensors allows the unmanned vessel to hunt and track quiet modern diesel electric submarines and perform surveillance. The use of high-frequency sonar sends “pings” into the ocean and utilizes return signals to find “enemy activity” and determine characteristics, such as the size, shape, and speed of foreign vessels. Sea Hunter is designed to operate safely on the seas in a variety of conditions and in and around manned maritime vessels. Computers drive and control the vessel, as human operators observe and take charge as necessary via a concept called “Sparse Supervisory Control.”

Use of Sea Hunter will enable the U.S. Navy to operate at a fraction of the size and cost of traditional warships and aircraft carriers that are currently used for deployment and deterrence strategy. Upon the completion of testing for speed, stability, maneuverability, seakeeping, acceleration, deceleration, and fuel consumption, Sea Hunter will be ready to function at sea with no one on board and with limited supervision during deployment. In addition to hunting enemy subs, Sea Hunter can take on wider challenges in the future. This can include carrying out surface warfare missions, firing weapons, and launching electronic attacks; bringing virtual warfare well within the realm of possibility. Once fully operational, the state-of-the art vessel is expected to revolutionize naval warfare for America and the world.

This article was originally published in Volume 11 Issue 2 of AMAC Advantage Magazine. 

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5 years ago

I love the idea of our military having new stuff. We need a strong military. Here’s the thing, until the Navy shows it can operate the ships they have and maintain a record of safely getting in and out of port, i don’t believe they deserve anything new. It’s like your kid wrecks 3 cars in one year, and you go out and buy them a new one? I guess this isn’t a good example, because many of you would do just that. We have spoiled children, and a spoiled Navy. Hats off to the Navy of WWII. But until the Navy can sail across the PACIFIC OCEAN without hitting a shrimp boat well they don’t get anything new.

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