Manta Ray Program: Manta Ray Inspired Unmanned Underwater Vehicles

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DARPA has announced that it has chosen two prime contractors to develop phase 2 of the Manta Ray program, a project that aims to develop highly autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles inspired by marine animals (particularly manta rays).

They are shaped like stingrays and appear to move in the same way. They glide on the water, close to the sand. And yet these vehicles are not the graceful animals we admire, plying the seafloor.

They are actually a project of DARPA, the US agency in charge of advanced defense research projects. Phase 2 of the Manta Ray program has just been launched and two prime contractors, Northrop Grumann Systems Corporation and Martin Defense Group, must now develop these autonomous unmanned vehicles (UUVs).

Independent operation, without logistics or maintenance

With this research, DARPA hopes to demonstrate that these payload UUVs can perform long-range and long-duration missions, without human assistance (logistics or maintenance) in an ocean environment.

“DARPA’s Manta Ray program has made significant progress by enabling autonomous underwater vehicles with payload capability to operate independently of manned vessels or supporting infrastructure,” said Commander Kyle Woerner, head of the Manta Ray program in a statement. press.

Preliminary tests were carried out during phase 1 (reliability, navigation, corrosion, etc.). © DARPA

“By investing in various solutions, DARPA strengthens our ability to transfer innovative underwater technologies to our national security partners. Manta Ray is in a unique position to simultaneously introduce a new class of underwater vehicles while bringing key component technologies to other vital underwater programs. “

A program launched in 2020

The Manta Ray program was launched in 2020. During phase 1, preliminary design and construction tests were carried out, with approaches in terms of energy management, reliability, corrosion, navigation, capacity. To avoid underwater obstacles… From now on, the main contractors will work on manufacturing and in-water demonstrations of large-scale vehicles.

In a video posted on December 21, DARPA illustrates how these autonomous vehicles could operate, gliding a few feet above the ground. We see in this video that the UUV deploys a payload that resembles a sensor. He leaves the vehicle for a few moments, emits a signal and returns to his base. “The Manta Ray program concluded Phase 1 with critical design reviews that demonstrated design maturity and readiness to move to Phase 2,” says DARPA.

This new autonomous unmanned vehicle program is one of many investigations going through the hands of the Pentagon agency. These UUVs will likely eventually join the Navy fleet. In addition, this US Army Corps announced on December 14 that it had begun to build a base at its war center in Port Hueneme, California. This infrastructure will serve as the basis for developing and testing a large number of autonomous unmanned vehicles and other drones, underwater or not.

“These facilities will be the focal point for the Navy’s learning and experimentation on the capabilities, operations, and maintenance of prototypes of unmanned maritime vehicles to inform future programs,” said Captain Pete Small, naval officer, chief of the office of programs for UUV.

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