WASHINGTON, April 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy's newest sub-hunting maritime drone successfully completed preliminary speed and maneuverability testing in preparation for its christening into the fleet this month.
A technology demonstration version of the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, or ACTUV, completed the open water drills near Portland, Ore., according to a Defense Department fact sheet.
Program officials from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and defense technology firm Leidos are spearheading development of the ACTUV. During the Portland tests, the ship was able to reach a top speed of 27 knots, or 31 miles per hour.
"The ACTUV doesn't just answer one of the biggest challenges the Navy faces today. It launches an entirely new class of unmanned vessel with vast possibilities for the future," according to a company statement.
The ship is officially slated to be christened into the U.S. Navy fleet on April 7, after which it will begin an extended round of open-water testing in the Pacific, off the California coast.
"The program has designed, developed and constructed an entirely new class of ocean-going vessel -- one intended to traverse thousands of kilometers over the open seas for months at a time, all without a single crew member aboard," DARPA officials said.
The ship's main mission is to find and track diesel-electric submarines. Their relative low cost and very quiet engine noise has made them a favorite several near-peer competitors to the United States, such as Russia and Iran. Tehran reportedly claims to have 17 diesel-electric subs as part of its maritime arsenal.
Attempting to track these subs while traversing some of the world's busiest sea shipping lanes is "like trying to identify the sound of a single car engine in the din of a major city," says Rear Admiral Frank Drennan, commander of the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command.
DARPA says preliminary work on the ACTUV's sub-tracking technology has shown the ship drone was able to find, fix and track a diesel-electric submarine from a distance of nearly 2 miles.