DARPA has finally lifted the veil on its secretive Manta Ray robotic sub, revealing impressive new images of the prototype Uncrewed Underwater Vehicle (UUV) as it undergoes its inaugural sea trials off the coast of Southern California.

Resembling a fusion of the B-21 Raider bomber and a relic from a 1960s science fiction series, the Manta Ray exudes an air of mystery. While DARPA has provided some insights into the sub, essential details regarding specifications and performance have been shrouded in secrecy. Positioned to spearhead a new era of UUVs characterized by extended range, prolonged endurance, and versatility in handling various payloads, the Manta Ray offers a revolutionary approach to underwater operations.

Notably, the Manta Ray’s design facilitates modular assembly, allowing it to be transported in sections within standard containers and assembled on-site without occupying precious space at ports or naval facilities. This feature enables rapid deployment, minimizing transit time and logistical complexities.

From the recently unveiled images featuring individuals and a small vessel, it’s evident that the Manta Ray commands a considerable presence. Its stern boasts shrouded propulsors and likely thrusters for maneuverability. Additionally, the presence of protuberances suggests the inclusion of antennas, water inlets, and a streamlined shape optimized for efficient underwater navigation.

According to primary contractor Northrop Grumman, the Manta Ray incorporates modular construction and energy-efficient systems, including the capability to anchor itself to the seabed and enter hibernation mode. Key features encompass low-power undersea propulsion systems, advanced sensors for threat detection and classification, high-efficiency navigation and command systems, and innovative anti-biofouling measures.

During the initial testing phase conducted between February and March, emphasis was placed on evaluating the Manta Ray’s hydrodynamic performance, propulsion, steering, buoyancy, propellers, and control surfaces while submerged. The tests also assessed the sub’s portability, as it was disassembled and packed into five standard shipping containers before being transported from Northrop Grumman’s Maryland facility to California.

Dr. Kyle Woerner, DARPA program manager for Manta Ray, expressed satisfaction with the successful testing, affirming the vehicle’s readiness for real-world operations. He highlighted the pioneering capability of the Manta Ray in terms of cross-country modular transportation, on-site assembly, and subsequent deployment, heralding a new era for extra-large UUVs.

By directly shipping the vehicle to its designated operational area, energy expenditure during transit is minimized. Once deployed, the Manta Ray harnesses efficient, buoyancy-driven gliding to traverse underwater environments. Its versatile design, featuring multiple payload bays of varying sizes and types, empowers it to undertake a diverse array of naval missions, promising significant advancements in underwater exploration and surveillance capabilities.

By Impact Lab