Concerned by the growing threat posed by China, the US Navy is building autonomous ships, with electronic eyes that monitor enemy forces in the vast Pacific Ocean, expanding their range of firepower and keeping their sailors in harm’s way. keep out of.
The Navy is ramping up production of these autonomous ships so as not to fall behind China’s naval power, determined not to repeat the mess of costly shipbuilding of recent years.
Four largest autonomous ships are being used in multinational naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean.
Smaller autonomous ships are also deployed in the 5th Fleet off the coast of the Middle East.
The aim is to see how the radar and sensors of these ships can be combined with artificial intelligence, and all of this integrated with conventional cruisers, destroyers, submarines and aircraft carriers, to create a new fleet Which can be deployed in large places and is difficult. To destroy the enemy, according to the Navy.
“You have to take advantage of technology. Everything takes time,” said Jeremiah Daly, Division One commander of California’s unmanned surface craft unit.
According to James Holmes, a naval professor, the Navy believes the technology can help in three key areas — weapons range, scouting, and command and control — at a lower cost and without exposing personnel. Naval War Office Island in Newport, Rd.
However, all these advantages must be verified, as well as the durability of these vessels in salt water, he added.
“You have to make sure all this technology works. It would certainly be useful, but it is not clear to what extent it will revolutionize everything,” said Holmes, who is not speaking on behalf of the Navy. .
Before proceeding, the Navy must first convince a skeptical Congress after a series of missteps.
Their fast-moving coastal ships had problems with propulsion and were quickly withdrawn. The “advanced weapon system” of their stealth destroyer fell out of use because ammunition was too expensive. And its latest aircraft carrier had problems with lift and the new aircraft take-off system.
Some say the Navy has crammed too much new technology into those ships, at high cost and failing.
“We can’t throw all the resources (for autonomous ships) with all the problems we’ve had over the past 20 years,” said Elaine Luria, a Democrat representative who is a retired Navy officer.
According to Task Force Director Michael Stewart, the Navy’s Unmanned Craft Task Force has taken a new approach, employing the military equivalent of a venture capital investment model with only technologies that have been proven to work.
According to 5th Fleet spokesman Thimothy Hawkins, while larger ships are being tested in the Pacific, promising results have already been seen with trials of smaller ships in Bahrain.
One of the boats generating the most interest is the saildrone, a sailboat with systems that work with solar power. They are equipped with radars and cameras and it is said that these ships can operate autonomously for months, without the need for re-supply or maintenance.
The Navy aims to deploy 100 unmanned ships by the middle of next year.
Admiral Mike Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, estimates that there will be a mix of 150 unmanned ships and more than 350 conventional ships, including submarines, by 2045.
The main advantage of unmanned ships is that they are much cheaper than conventional ones, said Lauren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute.
The United States already lags behind China in the number of warships, and the gap widens with each passing year. But according to Brian Clark, an analyst at the Hudson Institute, Congress is in no hurry to close that gap. “The Congress first wants to make a good plan and then implement it quickly,” he said.
Rapid notification from Portland, Maine. Jennifer McDermott contributed from Providence, Rhode Island.
David Sharp is on Twitter: @David_Sharp_AP