Tuesday, April 9, 2024

DARPA awards Phase 2 contracts for Manta Ray underwater drone

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded the Phase 2 contracts to Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation and Martin Defense Group to continue its Manta Ray unmanned undersea vehicle program.

The effort seeks to demonstrate innovative technologies allowing payload-capable autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) to operate on long-duration, long-range missions in ocean environments. The two companies will develop unique full-scale demonstration vehicles.

Began in 2020, the Manta Ray program seeks to develop UUVs that operate for extended durations without the need for on-site human logistics support or maintenance. In Phase 1 of the program, performers designed and conducted preliminary testing on novel approaches in energy management, UUV reliability, biofouling and corrosion control, navigation, and undersea obstacle avoidance, among other areas that directly enable long-endurance missions.

“DARPA’s Manta Ray program has made significant breakthroughs toward enabling payload-capable autonomous underwater vehicles to operate independently of crewed vessels or support infrastructure,” stated CDR Kyle Woerner, Manta Ray’s program manager. “By investing in diverse solutions, DARPA strengthens our ability to transition innovative undersea technologies to our national security partners. Manta Ray is uniquely positioning itself to simultaneously introduce a new class of underwater vehicles while contributing key component technologies to other vital undersea programs.”

The UUV is expected to operate at the absolute depths of oceans and could also be designed to carry additional payloads that could perform specialized tasks. The concept video published by DARPA shows how the UUV might operate, gliding just a few feet of the ocean floor. At one point, the vehicle deploys a smaller sensor-like payload that leaves the UUV for several moments, begins to emit a signal, and then returns to the Manta Ray.

The Manta Ray program concluded Phase 1 with Critical Design Reviews that demonstrated design maturity and readiness for advancement to Phase 2. The selected performers will now work on subsystem testing, followed by fabrication and in-water demonstrations of full-scale integrated vehicles.