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    Northrop Grumman’s Manta Ray UUV: A New Era of Underwater Endurance and Autonomy

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    In a groundbreaking development, Northrop Grumman Corporation has unveiled the first image of its Manta Ray uncrewed underwater vehicle (UUV), a prototype designed for extended-duration, long-range undersea missions.

    The unveiling occurred on April 8, 2024, off the coast of Southern California, where the Manta Ray prototype had recently completed comprehensive full-scale in-water testing.

    The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. military’s research and development branch, has been working closely with Northrop Grumman on this initiative, aiming to revolutionize underwater operations.

    The Manta Ray program targets advancements in energy management, payload capacity, and low-power propulsion systems, key areas for improving UUV capabilities.

    Submarine of the South African Navy on the surface of the ocean. Underwater marine vessel in the sea on the water off the coast of Cape town.

    The DARPA program manager for Manta Ray, Dr. Kyle Woerner, emphasized the success of the testing phase, stating, “Our successful, full-scale Manta Ray testing validates the vehicle’s readiness to advance toward real-world operations after being rapidly assembled in the field from modular subsections.” This first-of-kind capability positions the Manta Ray as a highly versatile asset for the U.S. Navy.

    Northrop Grumman transported the UUV in modular subsections from Maryland to California, a process that demonstrates not only efficient logistics but also the potential for rapid global deployment.

    This modular design enables the Manta Ray to be directly shipped to its operational area, which conserves energy by eliminating the need for the vehicle to transit under its own power. “Once deployed, the vehicle uses efficient, buoyancy-driven gliding to move through the water,” said Woerner. “The craft is designed with several payload bays of multiple sizes and types to enable a wide variety of naval mission sets.”

    The Manta Ray’s energy-saving technologies are notably innovative.

    Alongside a renewable-energy company, Seatrec, Northrop Grumman has developed an energy-harvesting system that relies on the ocean’s thermal gradient, converting the temperature differences into electricity.

    This allows for near-unlimited distances and durations of operations, which is a significant enhancement over traditional UUVs limited by onboard stored energy.

    The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) transits the Suez Canal.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Moreover, the Manta Ray is envisioned to carry various payloads, supporting a broad spectrum of missions such as undersea mapping, mine detection, and passive surveillance. Its advanced command, control, and communications (C3) capabilities allow it to function with minimal human oversight, adapting quickly to dynamic maritime environments.

    110905-N-JH293-063 DIEGO GARCIA (Sept. 5, 2011) The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Georgia (SSGN 729) prepares to moor outboard of the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land (AS 39) in Diego Garcia. Georgia is homeported in Kings Bay, Ga., and will undergo a continuous maintenance availability and crew exchange while in Emory S. LandÕs homeport of Diego Garcia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chris Williamson/Released)

    The level of autonomy required for these operations is considerable, and Northrop Grumman’s prototype is equipped to meet these challenges. With rapid advancements in AI and automated piloting systems, the Manta Ray is at the forefront of underwater vehicle technology.

    Underwater robot explores the deep sea - This image is an illustration
    Underwater robot explores the deep sea – This image is an illustration

    As part of DARPA’s initiative, a second performer, PacMar Technologies, is continuing to test its full-scale energy harvesting system in 2024, highlighting the program’s competitive and innovative spirit.

    The discarded submarine in the port
    The discarded submarine in the port

    As the Navy looks to field a wide range of UUVs, including extra-large types, the Manta Ray represents a significant advancement in undersea technology. Its potential impact in future maritime engagements is substantial, providing strategic advantages to the U.S. military while also considering the growing capabilities of adversaries in underwater vehicle technology.

    The Manta Ray UUV is a testament to the evolving landscape of military technology and the strategic importance of underwater capabilities in modern warfare.

    Unmanned underwater vehicle on the ship.
    Unmanned underwater vehicle on the ship.

    With the successful testing and unveiling of this prototype, Northrop Grumman and DARPA set a new benchmark for autonomous underwater vehicles, ushering in a new era of undersea endurance and autonomy.

    Relevant articles:
    DARPA Releases First Images Of Manta Ray Underwater Drone During In-Water Testing, The Aviationist
    Water Testing of Manta Ray UUV, Naval News
    Manta Ray High-Endurance Underwater Drone Unveiled, The War Zone
    Northrop Grumman unveils prototype of spooky new underwater drone, KSL News

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