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Sea Drones in the Works

by christian on February 8, 2010

I guess it was inevitable. The Air Force has its Leer Jet-sized drones flying circles around the globe, taking snap shots of Iranian nuke plants, Chinese sub pens and Haitian wreckage.

So what about the Navy, huh?

Well a tipster sent us an interesting story the other day about a DARPA project looking into producing unmanned frigates to locate and shadow enemy subs.

The three main objectives of the program are to build an “X-ship” that operates without anyone stepping aboard at any point in its operating cycle, secondly to demonstrate the technical viability of the system under “sparse remote supervisory control”, and thirdly to demonstrate the anti-submarine capability of the vessel and its “novel suite of sensors”. The ACTUV is unlike other unmanned vessels in that it is designed for global, independent deployment for months at a time.

The so-called Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, would actively ping subs and do the laborious work of trailing them constantly, letting them know Uncle Sam is on their tail.

First, let’s consider the source. It’s DARPA after all, so we can’t really expect that this will ever happen. But what DARPA is good at (other than providing fodder for the first person shooter video game community) is to spur thinking an innovation and way outside the box areas. With the Navy continually downsizing and building ships that require fewer crew, why not begin looking into the idea of larger ships with computerized crew?

I’m no expert on anti-submarine warfare, but it seems to me both doable and foolish. Computers are doing most of the undersea sound analysis anyway, why not have a computerized ship doing the dull work of detecting and tracking tangos like a Predator might do. I also recognize that there’s a huge amount of interpretation needed in the detection and analysis of undersea target (all of which could be done at a distance, for sure) but I’m also nervous about a totally unmanned ship navigating shipping lanes and other waters without a man on board to take the wheel when the seas get rough.

One thing I do know, it wouldn’t make for a very good remake of The Hunt for Red October.

– Christian

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