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Home US announces underwater military drone inspired by manta rays to carry classified payloads on underwater missions

US announces underwater military drone inspired by manta rays to carry classified payloads on underwater missions

12 April 2024 12 gies: 03
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US announces underwater military drone inspired by manta rays to carry classified payloads on underwater missions
Photo: Disclosure

New US underwater military drone promises to be a revolution and does not need a crew. The model will use renewable energy to charge and is inspired by manta rays.

DARPA, the United States defense agency, announced in 2021 the development of a program whose focus was to develop a new ally for the military. It is an underwater military drone capable of operating on long-duration and long-range missions. The result of this US agency project was named Manta Ray.

Understand the construction process of the US underwater military drone

The US agency is awaiting the construction of two full-size underwater military drone units to begin testing. One of them was ready this week, according to information from the Northrop Grumman, one of the companies selected by DARPA. The company refers to the Manta Ray as a large unmanned underwater glider.

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As usual, in military projects of this level, little information has been released so far. The US underwater military drone, inspired by the shape of manta rays (hence the English name), is expected to be powered by new technologies, including ability to harvest energy from underwater sources to operate in hostile environments for long periods.

US announces underwater military drone inspired by manta rays to carry classified payloads on underwater missions
Photo: Disclosure

As for construction, the Manta Ray must be built with materials capable of protecting it against biofouling (accumulation of microorganisms and algae on structures), corrosion and other types of degradation that occur in water.

DARPA also requested that the US military drone be difficult to detect underwater and have hazard classification capabilities. The Northrop Grumman concept was developed to transport classified cargo on submarine missions, eliminating the need for human crew members on board.

The name and shape of the underwater military drone were inspired by manta rays, with a diamond-shaped body. The genus of fish with a long tail can reach a wingspan of up to seven meters.

US underwater military drone can generate renewable energy

An essential requirement of the Manta Ray is its ability to operate without the need for humans. Not only must the drone use minimal amounts of energy, but it must also extract energy from the sea. The ability to renew its electricity supply keeps the drone's size and weight down, making it smaller and harder to detect. There are two ways to approach the energy issue. One of them is solar energy – recharging batteries from a solar panel, ideally embedded in the drone's skin.

However, sunlight quickly dims as it moves deeper into the ocean, and the underwater military drone would have to surface to recharge its batteries, making it vulnerable to detection. Another possible source of electricity is wave energy. In a 2022 DARPA video, the US drone extends what appears to be a retractable device that collects wave energy and converts the movement of water into energy.

How will the US military drone be used?

A drone capable of carrying out missions autonomously, without the need for refueling, opens up a range of possibilities. One of them is the use of Manta Ray as a Surveillance system.

For example, in one video, the drone appears to be floating on a hydrophone array. Hydrophones, also called passive sonars, are basically giant microphones that listen to the ocean for telltale sounds from enemy submarines. 

They generate no detectable emissions, use minimal electricity, and despite often collecting large amounts of data, an AI could analyze that data and transmit only suspicious signals to human analysts for further study.

Currently, the US Navy It relies on specialized surface ships and a few static hydrophone arrays to track submarines. The ships are relatively vulnerable to attack and would have to be withdrawn in times of war.

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