January 17, 2011      

Northrop Grumman Corporation has been awarded a $2 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV), which will be among the first of a new class of ocean-going unmanned surface vessels (USVs).

Under terms of the contract, a Northrop Grumman statement said that the company will develop a concept, specifications, and a manufacturing plan by the end of March 2011 for a persistent, autonomous vessel that can perform ASW tracking and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance functions.

The need for ACTUVs results from new submarine classes that are able to achieve ever-increasing levels of acoustic quieting, a prepared statement from DARPA noted. Some modern diesel-electric

submarines are able to challenge conventional tracking approaches, risking future U.S. capabilities in the undersea battle space.

The DARPA program seeks to advance autonomous operations technology with a goal of full compliance with safe navigation requirements while executing its tactical mission under a sparse remote-supervisory control model. ACTUV will leverage its unique characteristics to employ a novel suite of sensors, capable of robustly tracking quiet diesel-electric submarines to deliver a game- changing operational capability that puts asymmetric tactical and economic advantages in the United States’ favor, the DARPA statement continued.

 “It will be a clean sheet unmanned ship design with no person stepping aboard at any point in its operating cycle,” said Rob McHenry, DARPA program manager.

The sensors aboard the vessel would provide the ACTUV’s command and control system with the situational awareness it needs to respond to target behaviors. High-fidelity surface-navigation sensors and system constraints would help ensure compliance with the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea and with maritime law, Northrup Grumman said.

“Our ACTUV solution will include a feasible vehicle that will be capable of quickly transitioning into an operational system – like the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, which flew in just 33 months,” said Robert DuBeau, vice president of Northrop Grumman’s Undersea Systems business unit.

Besides Northrup Grumman, more than half a dozen contractor teams will support the development of concept designs for the ACTUV system and execute risk-reduction activities for key technology enablers, including Science Applications International Corp.’s Intelligence, Security, and Technology Group and Qinetiq North America Technology Solutions Group. Conducting development and demonstration of key enabling technologies are the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory, for the testing of high frequency active sonar for acquisition and tracking of submarine targets; along with Spatial Integrated Systems, for the development of unmanned surface vessel autonomous algorithms for submarine tracking and rules-of-the-road compliance; and Sonalysts, for the development of an exploratory crowd-sourced tactics simulator.

Additional contractors involved in the program are Harris Inc., a developer of assured communications technologies; Vehicle Control Technologies Inc.; and The Pennsylvania State University, Advanced Research Laboratory of State College, PA., a leader in unmanned vehicle propulsion and power systems, the Northrup Grumman release noted.

Over the past decade, Northrop Grumman’s Undersea Systems business unit has developed and integrated numerous USVs, including the U.S. Navy’s Spartan and the Naval Expeditionary Overwatch USVs. To enhance flexibility and enable future growth as missions evolve, Northrop Grumman’s ACTUV will employ open standards, commercial-off-the-shelf components and a modular open systems approach, all of which enable low-cost, high-volume manufacturing, the company said.


Northrup news release

DARPA news release