Sea Hunter, an entirely new class of unmanned ocean-going vessel gets underway on the Willamette River following a christening ceremony in Portland, Oregon. Photo: US Navy

The US Navy could reportedly begin deploying a self-piloting sea drone by year’s end that can hunt for hostile submarines at a time when China and Russia are expanding their underwater fleets.

Stars & Stripes, the US military newspaper, says the navy received the $20 million prototype last week from the Defense Advanced Research Agency, or DARPA. Navy researchers will now work to further develop the robotic vessel, named the Sea Hunter — which requires no remote piloting — with the aim of integrating it into fleets.

The craft has undergone rigorous testing in the past two years to ensure it can pilot itself safely and follow international rules for avoiding collisions at sea, according to DARPA.

Navy officials haven’t said when the drone will go into service, but the newspaper cites DARPA as saying that its first missions could happen later this year.

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