Robot submarines could soon be used to spy on America’s enemies

More than a decade after airborne drones took flight over battlefields, the world’s biggest defense manufacturers are eyeing a new market below the ocean’s surface.

The Navy recently opened up a competition for unmanned submarines that can navigate autonomously. Chicago-based Boeing has taken an early lead in the fledgling market: The company has developed a 51-foot-long vessel called the Echo Voyager to compete for the contract, and last year it bought a company called Liquid Robotics that focuses on smaller unmanned subs.

Bethesda-based competitor Lockheed Martin is also competing for the contract, a company spokeswoman said Thursday, and it, too, is now ramping up its efforts by investing in another company specializing in the autonomous watercraft.

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