Future Trends

Underwater Drone Prototype Tests Advance Forward DARPA’s Manta Ray Program

Prototype demonstration

Underwater Drone Prototype Tests Advance Forward DARPA’s Manta Ray Program

A series of recently completed field tests is advancing the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Manta Ray unmanned underwater vehicle program to the next phase of testing for transition to the U.S. Navy. According to the agency, the latest tests involved Northrop Grumman’s demonstration of a Manta Ray prototype off the Southern California coast in February and March. 

The UUV program’s other performer, PacMar Technologies, conducted an in-water test of its scaled Manta Ray prototype off the Oahu coast in Hawaii in September, DefenseScoop reported Wednesday.

DARPA initiated the Manta Ray program in 2020. In December 2021, it selected Northrop Grumman and PacMar Technologies (then known as the Martin Defense Group) to develop demonstration UUV prototypes.

In the Northrop Grumman test, the company demonstrated its prototype’s hydrodynamic capabilities, utilizing all propulsion and steering modes. The in-water splash test of PacMar Technologies’ scaled prototype also checked its hydrodynamic functions, as well as the UUV’s sensors and glider body performance.

Overall, DARPA’s Manta Ray goals include the demonstration of new energy management methods and underwater energy harvesting techniques for UUV operations. The project also seeks to develop mission management systems for extended periods in dynamic maritime conditions.

Aside from the DARPA program, the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit is also pursuing a project to prototype large undersea drones, with its contracts awarded to Anduril Industries, Oceaneering International and Kongsberg Discovery in February. The U.S. Navy already has its first Extra Large Uncrewed Undersea Vehicle, which Boeing delivered in December after completion of acceptance testing that started in April 2023.

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Tags: DARPA DefenseScoop Future Trends Manta Ray Northrop Grumman PacMar Technologies underwater drone prototype US Defense