Defense contractor Leidos announced Monday that it has finished initial trials of the Sea Hunter “highly autonomous” demonstrator surface craft, which the U.S. Navy intends to outfit for an anti-submarine warfare mission.
The ship’s autonomy suite (its self-navigating computer system) has not yet been formally tested, but Leidos says that the fiberglass vessel did better than required on all performance benchmarks for "speed, maneuverability, stability, seakeeping, acceleration/deceleration, and fuel consumption, as well as establishing confidence in mechanical systems reliability in an open-ocean environment." Sea Hunter's 130-foot trimaran hull is designed for a maximum speed of 27 knots and operations in conditions up to sea state five.
The vessel is intended to conduct missions of up to 70 days long without resupply, and to carry out tasks that may be risky for human sailors to conduct – at a very economical price per unit. “Although ACTUV will sail unmanned, its story is entirely about people,” said Scott Littlefield, DARPA program manager.
The next round of trials will focus on the small ship's sensors, autonomous features, its ability to comply with COLREGS on its own and Navy tests related to warfighting applications. All testing is being carried out in San Diego, the home of the Fifth Fleet.
While the vessel has been operating in a manned configuration so far, Leidos says that later tests will be done without a human pilot on board. As presently equipped (as of her christening in April), Sea Hunter cannot yet perceive vessel classes as defined in the Rules of the Road – for example, sailboats or vessels engaged in fishing. DARPA and Leidos say that this is within technological reach and that it is something they plan to examine for the ship's future development.