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DARPA’s 130-foot submarine-hunting drone will take to the sea in April

After years of development and construction, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) says it has settled on a proper launch date for its futuristic submarine-hunting surface drone known as the ACTUV. Officially scheduled for April 7, DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessell plans to ship out from its Portland, Oregon shipyard and embark on its maiden voyage in the Pacific Northwest city’s frigid Columbia River. Once deployed, the rig will undergo standard open water testing before transitioning to long-range testing in the Pacific for roughly 18 months. After this is completed, DARPA hopes to send the ACTUV on its first genuine mission by 2017.

In construction since 2014, DARPA’s 140-ton autonomous vessel was devised to allow the agency to deliver a long-distance submarine-tracker which avoids housing even one human. Additionally, the agency created its internal software with the goal of making its technology as adaptable as possible in order for it to serve multiple purposes for multiple agencies.

For instance, outside of its primary characteristic of tracking and following even the quietest of submarines over long distances, the U.S. Navy could also use it to detect mines in the open ocean. Regardless of its intended function, the ACTUV boasts the potential to continuously operate for roughly 60 to 90 days, completely on its own.

“Imagine an unmanned surface vessel following all the laws of the sea on its own and operating with manned surface and unmanned underwater vehicles,” said DARPA deputy director Steve Walker at a recent media roundtable. “We think the real cost savings will be in operating this vessel at sea compared to how we operate vessels today. It could be used for counter-mine missions, reconaissance, and resupply.”

Related: DARPA’s new drone will be able to take off and land on small Navy ships autonomously

What’s perhaps most impressive about the ACTUV’s built-in skills is the fact it will cost dramatically less to operate than your run-of-the-mill naval destroyers, running on an estimated $15k to $20k per day instead of around $200k. DARPA’s ACTUV also has the ability to ship larger payloads than traditional ship-launched surface vehicles — it is 130 feet long and weighs 140 tons, after all — and will be able to launch and return to a pier entirely on its own once fully functional.

It’s unknown whether the official christening will involve broken bottles of champagne or not, but with the launch scheduled to take place in Digital Trends’ backyard, expect an in-depth launch report come April 7.