US Conducts Tests on Giant ‘Manta Ray’ Drone Submarine

Manta Ray: The US has conducted tests on an innovative underwater drone, resembling a giant manta ray, which could potentially undertake extended underwater missions globally.

Known as the Manta Ray prototype, this unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) underwent comprehensive testing off the coast of Southern California over the past three months.

Funded by the US Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), and constructed by defense contractor Northrop Grumman, the drone aims to pioneer a new category of long-range UUVs capable of carrying payloads across vast oceanic distances.

Utilizing efficient, buoyancy-driven gliding, the Manta Ray prototype has the potential to diminish the necessity for extensive human involvement in underwater operations. Dr. Kyle Woerner, the program manager for Manta Ray at Darpa, expressed confidence in the vehicle’s readiness for real-world applications, highlighting its successful testing and rapid assembly from modular components in the field.

This capability, he noted, marks a significant advancement in the realm of extra-large UUVs.

Manufactured in Maryland, the prototype was transported in sections to its testing grounds in California by Northrop Grumman. The ease of shipping and assembly demonstrated during this process supports the feasibility of rapid deployment worldwide, without occupying significant pier space at naval facilities. Dr. Woerner emphasized the energy conservation benefits of shipping the vehicle directly to its operational area.

Darpa is currently collaborating with the US Navy to determine the next steps for testing and implementing this technology. Unmanned underwater vehicles, also referred to as underwater drones, have been in existence since the 1950s, providing a valuable tool for underwater exploration and reconnaissance.

Notably, in September 2021, researchers at a Chinese university developed a manta ray-shaped UUV for gathering information in the contested Paracel Islands region.

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