US Navy’s submarine-hunting ship will also launch surface warfare missions

The US Navy is altering course to expand the capability set of the “Sea Hunter,” a submarine specialist vessel, to include broader lethal weapon attachments and a set of tools to initiate electronic attacks.

“Right now, the sky’s the limit,” Sea Hunter project manager Capt. Jon Rucker said at the Surface Naval Association in Arlington, Virginia on Tuesday. But the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) wants to give the submarine-hunting drone ship a “mission portfolio” makeover.

The Sea Hunter checks in at 132-feet long, 135 tons, has a range of 10,000 miles and was designed to weather waves of up to 13 feet. What DARPA thinks to make the Sea Hunter unique, however, are sophisticated sensors which can locate virtually silent enemy submarines. Retrieving the underwater GPS coordinates of stealthy diesel-electric submarines in busy waterways is akin to “trying to identify the sound of a single car engine in the din of a major city,” Rear Adm. Frank Drennan, a senior anti-submarine warfare official said Tuesday.

The Sea Hunter belongs to the Pentagon’s “anti-submarine warfare continuous trail unmanned vessel” (ACTUV), where the agency intended to design a partially-autonomous ship to navigate naval theaters globally. DARPA hopes to have the Sea Hunter traveling autonomously for 90 days. In April 2016 the Navy celebrated the Sea Hunter’s first test firing of a payload.

By monitoring the position and movement of foreign-deployed submarines over long time frames, the goal, Rucker said, is to stop enemy submarines from lurking in strategically vital areas, perhaps the Strait of Hormuz or South China Sea.

One existing Pentagon doctrine requires a human-centric command and control center to authorize lethal force, which could potentially complicate DARPA’s quest to achieve increased self-governing transport and autonomous deadly-fire capability.

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