Newly-Released Photos Show Manta Ray Underwater Drone Undergoing In-Water Testing

Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman / DARPA / Press Release
Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman / DARPA / Press Release

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has released the first images of the Northrop Grumman-developed Manta Ray drone, an uncrewed underwater vehicle (UUV) currently in the prototype phase. The photos came from testing that was conducted off the coast of southern California in February and March 2024.

Overhead view of the Manta Ray UUV being towed by a ship in the water
Manta Ray UUV being towed into the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of southern California, 2024. (Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman / DARPA / Press Release)

The testing that took place looked to examine the Manta Ray’s hydronamic performance – in particular, the facets that involve the drone’s various modes of propulsion. To ship the vehicle from Maryland to California, Northrop Gumman had to ship it in pieces, which meant it had to be reassembled upon arriving on the West Coast.

According to Dr. Kyle Woerner, the program manager for the Manta Ray project, the ease with which the Manta Ray drone can be disassembled, shipped and reassembled highlights just how valuable it will be to the US Navy.

As he explains in a press release, “Shipping the vehicle directly to its intended area of operation conserves energy that the vehicle would otherwise expend during transit. 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.”

Kyle Woerner and a worker from Northrop Grumman standing atop the Manta Ray UUV while it's in the water
Dr. Kyle Woerner and an employee from Northrop Grumman with the Manta Ray UUV, 2024. (Photo Credit: DARPA / Press Release)

Named for the amphibious creature, the Manta Ray is the first of a “new class of long-duration, long-range, payload-capable” underwater, unmanned vehicles that can be deployed in maritime environments where human beings can’t.

Work has been going on for approximately five years. Northrop Grumman explains the vehicle not only has state-of-the-art energy-saving capabilities, but is also equipped with advanced command, control and communications (C3) capabilities.

“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,” Woerner details. “The combination of cross-country transportation, in-field assembly, and subsequent deployment demonstrates a first-of-kind capability for an extra-large UUV.”

Manta Ray UUV in a dark room
Full-size prototype of the Manta Ray UUV. (Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman / Press Release)

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According to DARPA, a second company involved in the project, PacMar Technologies, is continuing to test the drone’s full-scale energy harvesting system.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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