Northrop Grumman Assembles First Manta Ray UUV Prototype

Northrop Grumman completed the assembly of its first Manta Ray UUV full-scale prototype, pictured here at its Annapolis, Maryland facility. (Image: Northrop Grumman)

Northrop Grumman has completed the assembly of its first full-size prototype of Manta Ray, the defense manufacturer's new unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV).

The company describes Manta Ray as a new class of UUV, designed as an extra-large glider that will operate long-duration, long-range and payload-capable undersea missions without need for on-site human logistics. Manta Ray was developed under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program aimed at advancing key technologies to benefit future UUV designs, including techniques to manage energy, increased payload capacity, low-power propulsion and more.

The company has released few details about the design of the Manta Ray or its capabilities, other than noting that it is autonomous and operates without the need for on-site human logistics. Manta Ray is also payload-capable to support a variety of missions and has the ability to anchor itself "to the seafloor and hibernate in a low-power state." The prototype is also modular and can be transported in "five standard shipping containers," according to Northrop.

According to DARPA's description of the program, Manta Ray seeks to achieve the following goals in future UUV designs:

  • Novel energy management techniques for UUV operations and undersea energy harvesting techniques at operationally relevant depths;
  • Low-power, high efficiency undersea propulsion systems;
  • New low-power means of underwater detection and classification of hazards or counter detection threats;
  • Mission management approaches for extended durations while accounting for dynamic maritime environments;
  • Unique approaches for leveraging existing maritime data sets and exploiting novel maritime parameters for high-efficiency navigation and/or C3; and
  • New approaches to mitigate biofouling, corrosion, and other material degradation for long duration missions.

DARPA first launched the Manta Ray program in 2020, with the goal of developing next generation UUVs that can operate for extended durations without the need for on-site human logistics support or maintenance. Northrop was one of two manufacturers selected to build full-scale demonstrators for the project.

The other company selected for the program, PacMar Technologies, performed an in-water splash test with its own Manta Ray prototype during a September 2023 demonstration in Oahu, Hawaii.