Top-Secret Navy Weapon Makes Brief Appearance On Google Maps Before Vanishing

( — US defense contractor Northrop Grumman earlier this month unveiled its new unmanned underwater vehicle, the Manta Ray, releasing a promotional video showing the vessel maneuvering in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California during testing.

Sea drones have reshaped naval combat in recent years, especially in the Black Sea, where Ukrainian forces have been sinking Russian warships using the smaller, less expensive unmanned vehicles.

The Manta Ray is the latest unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV). An almond-shaped body with a modular construction that enables it to be easily taken apart and reassembled elsewhere, the Manta Ray is considered an “extra large” vessel that dwarfs some boats.

The pieces of the Manta Ray were shipped cross-country earlier this year for at-sea assessments. The UAV can glide through the water, dipping below the waves and resurfacing quickly with very little visible wake.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched the Manta Ray program in 2020 to develop an unmanned underwater vessel capable of traveling greater distances for extended hours, all with human contact at a minimum.

Northrop Grumman and PacMar Tech were selected to come up with preliminary designs.

Northrop later shared basic images of its completed prototype during a defense conference in Maryland. The video released earlier this month showed the first look at the Manta Ray in action.

More than a week after Northrop released the video, social media went wild after Google Earth’s satellite imagery showed the Manta Ray docked at California’s Port Hueneme Naval Base. The image was quickly replaced by what some claimed was an edited image masking the unmanned underwater vessel.

The US Navy is betting big on air, surface, and underwater unmanned systems to increase surveillance and augment firepower while reducing logistical demands. The Navy’s Navigation Plan includes a strategy for a fleet comprised of roughly 373 manned vessels supplemented by 150 unmanned vessels.

Additional trials for the Manta Ray are expected as the Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency continue dialogue.

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