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This paper proposes a new synthetic jet actuation concept for small, low speed, highly maneuverable AUVs. Synthetic jet thrusters, which produce jets of vortex rings, are inspired by the pulsatile jet propulsion of salps, jellyfish, and squid. To assess the potential utility of this scheme, we developed synthetic jet actuator prototypes, and verified their function via both force measurement and flow visualization experiments. We used a genetic-algorithm based technique for optimizing the actuation profile of the thrusters. Also presented is an initial discussion of vehicle design. Our conclusion is that synthetic jet thrusters are a viable propulsion method for small underwater vehicles.