The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency last week awarded Lockheed Martin a $12 million contract to begin developing a new class of unmanned undersea vehicles for the first phase of a program dubbed Manta Ray.
The program's goal, according to a DARPA solicitation published last year, is to develop technologies that enable UUVs to operate for longer durations and independent from other manned ships.
"Today's payload capable UUV operations are generally limited to shorter duration missions due to propeller-driven propulsion powering requirements and a fixed battery capacity," the June 2019 broad agency announcement said.
"Energy capacity limitations typically couple existing UUVs to manned host platforms, larger UUVs, or ports for periodic recharging," the document continued.
The exception to that limitation is to use a "sea glider design," which is traditionally employed for scientific data collection. However, according to the BAA, current iterations of those designs are not able to use naval payloads operational commanders would need.
DARPA, in the June BAA, anticipated multiple awards for the program's first phase of contracts. However, the contract announcement last week only included Lockheed Martin.
The fiscal year 2021 budget request includes $22 million for the Manta Ray program, and shows the DARPA received $11 million for work in FY-20.
"The FY 2021 increase reflects transition from initial concept development to systems development," according to the budget justification documents. "The anticipated transition partner is the Navy."