The U.S. military has welcomed the newest addition to its fleet, an experimental warship specially designed to hunt down and destroy enemy vessels in the high seas without the need of a crew to man it.
Several high-ranking government officials, led by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, were on hand during the christening of "Sea Hunter," a 132-foot robotic ship prototype developed as part of DARPA's Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program.
Scott Littlefield, manager of the ACTUV program, explained that one of their main priorities is to create vessels for the military with a high degree of autonomy, adding that their warship is not just a "remote controlled boat."
While Sea Hunter is fitted with computers that are designed to drive and control it, Littlefield said that its movements will still be monitored by human supervisors, who can take complete control of the warship if necessary.
This concept is called the "Sparse Supervisory Control," which means that a human is still in charge of the vessel but he will not be controlling it using any joysticks.
Sea Hunter was built by Leidos, DARPA's primary contractor for the ACTUV program, at the Vigor Shipyard (formerly the Oregon Iron Works) located in Portland. The shipyard is known to handle the construction of exotic vessels meant for special missions.
The new robotic warship was first launched back in January and has since been undergoing several trial runs in the Portland area.
During these trials, Sea Hunter was able to clock in a top speed of about 27 knots, but according to Littlefield, its actual top speed will depend on the sea state at which it is traveling as well as the amount of fuel it has on board.
The self-driving vessel can travel through moderate ocean waves of up to 6.5 feet high and winds of up to 21 knots (Sea State 5), but it can still handle rough seas with waves of up to 20 feet high (Sea State 7).
This combination of autonomy and endurance makes Sea Hunter ideal for hunting down enemy submarines without the high costs typically associated with deploying manned warships.
Work called the introduction of Sea Hunter as an "inflection point," adding that he hopes such self-driving vessels could be deployed in the western Pacific within the next few years.
"This is the first time we've ever had a totally robotic, trans-oceanic-capable ship," Work said.