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Sea Platforms

DARPA's Sea Hunter to begin COLREGS testing in January 2017

31 October 2016
DARPA has demonstrated a prototype of a low-cost, elevated sensor mast aboard its Sea Hunter USV. The elevated sensor was developed through the TALONS effort and is the first payload to be tested aboard Sea Hunter. Source: DARPA

Commencing in January 2017 DARPA will begin collecting data on how its Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) conducts fully autonomous operations in preparation for international certification.

Additionally, ASW track and trail testing of ACTUV could be delayed beyond fiscal year (FY) 2018.

ACTUV, now referred to as Sea Hunter, will begin the lengthy International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) certification process, an important step in determining whether the large unmanned surface vessel (USV) is a viable solution for conducting extended ASW missions.

COLREGS is a "threshold capability that is important for any large USV that will be operated at long distances from a human operator", explained Scott Littlefield, programme manager for DARPA's ACTUV programme.

"It is the rules of the road at sea," Littlefield told attendees at the annual AUVSI Unmanned Systems Defense maritime day, held on 24 October in Arlington, Virginia.

Sea Hunter is a 132-ft trimaran built by Leidos. The vessel was initially designed to autonomously track submarines for periods of weeks to months.

DARPA did not want ACTUV to be a remote-controlled vessel, particularly because of the reliability, latency and bandwidth issues associated with satellite communications, which would be used to control the vessel.

"You can't make that your achilles heel," Littlefield said. "You need something where if you lose communications with a remote operator it will continue to operate in a safe manner and complete the mission." For that capability, COLREGS is an enabler, he added.

COLREGS is also key to the concept of low manning because the platform can now go to Sparse Supervisory Control where one or two watchstanders could keep track of a fairly large number of Sea Hunters, Littlefield said.

"Because when they are out at sea in normal circumstances they are not required to have continuous interaction with an operator," he said.

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