US military tests new fish-shaped underwater drone

US military tests new fish-shaped underwater drone

The US military has conducted sea trials of the innovative ‘Manta Ray’ drone.

The prototype of the Manta Ray uncrewed underwater vehicle (UUV), developed by Northrop Grumman, underwent comprehensive testing off the coast of Southern California in February and March 2024.

During the testing phase, the Manta Ray demonstrated exceptional hydrodynamic performance, including submerged operations utilizing all modes of propulsion and steering, such as buoyancy, propellers, and control surfaces. Dr. Kyle Woerner, the DARPA program manager for Manta Ray, expressed satisfaction with the successful testing, emphasizing the vehicle’s readiness for real-world operations. He highlighted the vehicle’s modular design, enabling rapid assembly in the field from subsections.

Northrop Grumman transported the Manta Ray prototype in subsections from its manufacturing location in Maryland to the testing site in California, showcasing the ease of shipping and assembly. This capability supports the potential for rapid deployment worldwide, minimizing the need for pier space at naval facilities. Woerner emphasized the energy efficiency of the vehicle, both during transit and deployment, as it utilizes efficient, buoyancy-driven gliding to navigate through water.

The Manta Ray project aims to develop and demonstrate a new class of long-duration, long-range UUVs capable of persistent operations in dynamic maritime environments. DARPA is collaborating with the US Navy to determine the next steps for testing and transitioning this technology into operational use.

Additionally, PacMar Technologies, another participant in the Manta Ray project, is continuing testing of its full-scale energy harvesting system in 2024.

Analysts speculate that the U.S. Navy’s interest in developing such drones is to counter potential submarine operations by adversaries like Russia and China.

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