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The Manta Ray prototype uncrewed underwater vehicle (UUV) built by Northrop Grumman for the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) completed full-scale in-water testing off the coast of Southern California in February and March 2024, the agency announced on 1 May 2024.

The tests demonstrated at-sea hydrodynamic performance, including submerged operations using all the vehicle’s modes of propulsion and steering: buoyancy, propellers and control surfaces.

“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,” Dr Kyle Woerner, DARPA’s Manta Ray programme manager, was quoted as saying in an agency press release. “The combination of cross-country modular transportation, in-field assembly and subsequent deployment demonstrates a first-of-kind capability for an extra-large UUV,” he added.

Northrop Grumman shipped the Manta Ray prototype in subsections from its build location in Maryland to its test location in California.

“The demonstrated ease of shipping and assembly supports the possibility of rapid deployment throughout the world without crowding valuable pier space at naval facilities,” DARPA noted.

“Shipping the vehicle directly to its intended area of operation conserves energy that the vehicle would otherwise expend during transit,” said Woerner. “Once deployed, the vehicle uses efficient, buoyancy-driven gliding to move through the water. 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 programme aims to develop and demonstrate a new class of long-duration, long-range, payload-capable UUVs ready for persistent operations in dynamic maritime environments. DARPA is engaging with the US Navy on the next steps for testing and transition of this technology.

A second Manta Ray programme participant, PacMar Technologies, is continuing testing of its full-scale energy harvesting system in 2024.

In 2020 DARPA initially selected three companies to focus on development of an integrated solution for Manta Ray technology and operational areas: Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories and Navatek.

Under Phase 2 of the Manta Ray programme DARPA issued contracts to both Northrop Grumman and Martin Defense Group (formerly Navatek) to build and test full-scale UUVs in December 2021. Martin Defense Group was renamed PacMar Technologies in 2022.

Northrop Grumman’s Manta Ray prototype UUV on the surface during in-water testing, which took place off the coast of Southern California in February and March 2024. (Photo: Northrop Grumman)