back to article US crewless, automated ghost-frigate project takes shape

A US military plan to build a crewless, automated robo-frigate which could trail hostile submarines across the oceans for months on end without supervision - the ACTUV project - is moving forward, with several contracts recently announced. Concept for the ACTUV unmanned warship. Credit: DARPA Distinctly limited in cocktail- …

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Terminator

*cough*

"...roughly the same chance of going mainstream with the US forces as does a legion of invincible warriors created by implanting the salvaged brains of dead soldiers into powerful mutated ninja gorillas."

Next week. Seriously. It was getting hold of Ninjutsu-qualified gorillas that was the problem.

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Terminator

ghost subs

cue a small electrically powered automonous craft pretending to be a much larger sub programmed to circle the atlantic for the ghost frigates to follow while the real sub sneaks off at a opportune moment to pursue its real mission, prehaps in a heavy shipping area where the ghost frigate might be temporarily out of the idea position because it has to navigate around cargo ships.

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Bronze badge

Or...

Aren't there already decoy's for subs built into torpedoes? I can see that being quite funny, the sub comes out, fires one of those decoy torpedoes and then goes the opposite direction laughing.

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Anonymous Coward

Why do we still have people on the battlefield?

Because without people the enemy will keep on popping up. Perhaps one day robots will take over entirely, but it will mainly cause the hatred against you to set deeper. And war, as much as *cough* some people *cough* choose to ignore that fact, is in essence very, very human.

The counter to these frigates will likely be reminiscent of the "tipping over" of V1 flying bombs. Since there are no people around to repel boarders the latter might simply disconnect the AI and receivers, put the thing on a nice circular course, and carry on. Or maybe they'll sell it for scrap, or use it to tow contraband, or what-have-you.

On another note, we are already waging a robotic overlording war on people so backward they haven't caught on to "9/11" yet and don't know any better than that we're just attacking them because of their beliefs -- and no local lord will disabuse them of that notion even if they do know better. Long term, we're setting ourselves up for a nice fall.

I see what DARPA is trying to do here, and that's fine, it's what they do best. As an instrument of policy however --as military vessels tend to be-- it probably is a less fortunate choice.

Maybe as an automated cargo barge to slink past Somali pirates?

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Terminator

Fairly sure...

... that they'll put a CCTV camera on the mast, and it won't be terribly easy to "board".

As it will have no crew and be mostly submerged I imagine that maintenance would require dry dock (or at minimum being hoisted out onto the deck of something) and opening up a tightly sealed and well locked hatch. The amount of time required to do this at sea could probably be countered by speeding up so people get washed off, or using some sort of non-lethal system, one of those one's that makes your skin feel like it's on fire or something. It could even mount some small autocannon or something... for close defence against people in boats.

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Anonymous Coward

You could do all that...

... and still end up losing your expensive toys. Humans are _inventive_. CCTV cameras only might show you what is going on, they can't fight back. The thing will have some sort of uplink (or maybe a wire?) that might be jammable. Non-lethal systems (and why would you do that anyway, this is a warship) can be defeated -- hazed students and recruits know. There are already systems that can automatically track and therefore shoot human-type moving shapes, but you can shield against that with some suitable armour, hide in blind corners, that sort of thing. It'll have weak points *somewhere* and no humans to counter against that.

Even something simple as causing a rudder to jam would do the trick. That is what did the Bismarck in, and it had some 2k people on board.

The reasons drone aircraft are so successful is, next to massive technology and infrastructure enabling the things in the first place, the fact that they're basically unassailable with what the locals have available. You're not seeing radio controlled main battle tanks because aircraft are simply less hassle, cheaper, and safer all around. Boats are the natural next step to pursue, but are easier to counter, raising the stakes.

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Thumb Down

Torpedo it?

Cheaper to foul it's props with an old fishing net surely? Keep trying DARPA!

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My thoughts as well

Two very cheap underwater remotely operated vehicles, net between them and voila - you have your dead in the water non-flaming datum while the sub happily continues to wherever it is going. By the time the recovery crew has boarded the ship, has gotten to the propellers and has reenabled it the sub will be long gone even if it is crawling at measly 5 knots.

They should have at least gone for non-propeller propulsion for this to be even remotely feasible.

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deployment

How on earth would these be deployed? - too big (19m long) and heavy (160 tons) to be dropped by plane I would have thought.

Maybe the USAians might like to develop a stealth 200,000ton hydrofoil to drop these babies off where they would be useful?

ttfn

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Anonymous Coward

Errrm...

... they'll sail there from nearest friendly port and wait?

They are ocean going and have endurance enough to follow a sub for a long time...

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Thumb Up

Mmmmmm

Debbie Harry

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@Anton

Plastic bag over the air intake should do the job.

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Gold badge
Joke

Easy to foil

Instead the ACTUV will use an "artificial intelligence engine" originally developed for use in NASA's Mars rovers

So to get it off your tail, you just have to drive your sub past a sand-trap?

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Pirate

Behind you !

I would have though a quick trip through the English Channel and twice round the Isle of Wight or any convenient offshore wind farm or oilfield would lose the ACTUV.

Failing that you just sail towards another vessel, and then pass directly beneath them...

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Joke

If it BSOD's...

will we have a new Flying Dutchman out there under American registry?

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Bronze badge
Happy

K.I.S.S.

If the subs you want to track are so easy to spot as they leave port, why not just stick a magnetic RFID tag on there, and ping it when you want to know where it is, or when it gets near to anything considered important. There, I brought IT back into play for you.

(If anyone salutes this one as it goes up the pole, I want the royalties).

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Anonymous Coward

Ah! So that's what...

... those coils on Vickers Wellington DWI aircraft were for. Reading RFID tags on submarines!

http://www.historyofwar.org/Pictures/pictures_vickers_wellington_DWI.html

http://img20.imageshack.us/img20/2311/wellingtondwibw.jpg

http://www.rememberingscotlandatwar.org.uk/Accessible/Image/GetImage/360/-/bd8a9e5a-4554-445a-9f41-f9ec3561bfdb.jpg

http://ww2total.com/WW2/History/Chronology/1940/01/pictures/WW2-Chronology-066-px800.jpg

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mutated ninja gorillas

you've met the wife's mother then?

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Stop

Wait a flaming mo

Couple of thoughts on this flaming datum thing.

If my brief searches are accurate the 'flaming datum' problem is more of an issue for submarines during open war, whereby in destroying a juicy supertanker they give away their previously unknown position due to the enormous fireworks show.

If one of these robots is shadowing your sub then everyone already knows where you are, blowing it up is clearly going to make you harder to find, and given that almost all of the robot vessel is submerged and that it's relatively small, it's going to die quickly with almost no drama as a bonus.

So unless the Yanks are going to start a war over missing robot subs, these things are going to be considerably less effective than the existing manned subs, which while expensive, have proper MAD insurance against 'accidental' third party damage.

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Silver badge

I am waiting....

For one of these things to lock onto a cruise liner or a pod of Humpback whales or something.

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Silver badge

"... cheap, very silent diesel-electric submarines"

Cheaper than an ACTUV? If so, then aren't the available ACTUVs likely to be tied up following only a portion of the potential targets? It only makes sense if the ACTUV is significantly cheaper (unless it is capable of destroying as well).

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Jobs Horns

I'd like to ummmmmm

Steal one.

Give it a spray job, fit new number plates.....

And say "I bought it while on holiday in Mexico, and now it's mine - all mine".

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Thumb Up

My quick and easy solution to the ghost-frigate problem

No torpedos are necessary. Just get some short anchor chain. Tie one end to the submarine and another to the frigate. Then submerge.

I can't see the robot operating at 100 m depth.

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Pirate

Hmmm, I don't care HOW good the AI is...

Having a boat on the water with no watchkeeping is frankly against all nautical practice, particularly near the coasts and on shipping lanes. Will these things be squawking on AIS transponders so that we sailors can see them coming, or will they be running dark? Will they have radar to enable them to see the radar reflectors of a sailboat at night? If they do either then they are not exactly stealthy are they - and if they DON'T then they are a meanace to navigation.

N.B. to Blofeld's Cat - any sub in transit around the Isle of Wight submerged is more likely to be killed by an incoming or outgoing auto transport ship, or even a cruise liner, than actually evading a tail...those things are doing over 20 knots in the Solent, and have a pretty deep draft...

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Law of the Sea

Just thinking that one of these unmanned vessels would be classed under international maritime laws as an abandoned vessel and hence ripe for salvage by anyone who could put a crew aboard and take it over. At that point either it could be sold to the highest bidder or the original owners (the US government in this case) would have to buy it back at a price set by the appropriate Receiver of Wreck officials. Step and repeat...

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