DARPA taps four companies for critical unmanned underwater vehicle tech

DARPA has announced the four companies it has selected to work under its Manta Ray Program. Three of the companies will be tasked with developing 'an integrated solution' for the program's operational and technology areas, according to DARPA. The fourth company will instead focus on the topic of undersea energy harvesting options capable of working at the depths DARPA has planned.

The Manta Ray Program is DARPA's effort to develop unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) that can carry payloads, travel long distances, and withstand long-duration missions. The program will be used to demonstrate the critical technologies that will make this possible, according to DARPA, which describes a future UUV that will be able to operate independently from crewed vessels.

DARPA has selected some well-known companies for its Manta Ray Program — the three that will work on the aforementioned 'integrated solution' include Navatek, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Joining them will be Metron, which has been tapped for the undersea energy harvesting techniques that DARPA wants for UUVs.

The goal of this program isn't to get a final UUV, but rather to 'advance key technologies' that'll be necessary for future unmanned underwater vehicles. DARPA describes these key technologies as including high-efficiency and low-power propulsion systems, methods to mitigate corrosion and biofouling of the waters, material degradation that may happen during long-duration missions, and more.

DARPA's Manta Ray Program manager CDR Kyle Woerner said:

The Manta Ray program aims to increase at-sea operational capacity and capabilities for the combatant commander while minimizing disruptions to current operations by remaining independent of crewed vessels and ports once deployed. If successful, this new class of UUVs would allow operational flexibility and relief of workload for both traditional host ships and servicing ports.