The Navy’s newest surface vessel is a prototype submarine hunter that can travel thousands of miles for months at a time. All without a single crew member aboard.

In a January press release, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced that it had completed it’s ‘Sea Hunter’ program and was therefore transferring the prototype ship to the Navy’s Office of Naval Research.

“Our collaboration with ONR has brought closer to reality a future fleet in which both manned warships and capable large unmanned vessels complement each other to accomplish diverse, evolving missions,” said Alexander Walan, a program manager in the agency’s Tactical Technology Office.

The Sea Hunter is a 130-foot long vessel made up of a main hull and two smaller outrigger hulls. It can operate autonomously in compliance with maritime laws, according to an agency release.

The program started in September 2014 when the Navy and the agency agreed to jointly fund the testing of a prototype. After nearly two years of construction the Sea Hunter was christened in Portland, Oregon in April 2016.

The new boat does not only hunt subs. It can sweep for mines and even tested the agency’s Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems project.

According to an agency report, the lift system is attached to a parachute and extends to an altitude of several hundred feet while remaining attached to the vessel. At that altitude the system can extend surface-track radar range by 500 percent and double the range of infrared scanners.

“This demonstration was an important milestone in showing how clever use of unmanned systems could cost-effectively provide improved capabilities,” Dan Pratt, the agency’ program manager for the lift system, said of the Sea Hunter trial.

The development of cheaper technologies represents a new strategic direction for the Navy, replacing some large expensive ships with cheaper specialized vessels.

“The U.S. military has talked about the strategic importance of replacing ‘king’ and ‘queen’ pieces on the maritime chessboard with lots of ‘pawns,’” explained Fred Kennedy, the director of the agency’s Tactical Technology Office. “and ACTUV (Sea Hunter) is a first step toward doing exactly that.”

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