Aerospace & Defence

Self-driving warship helps reduce naval operating costs

8th April 2016
Joe Bush

Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been employed in military applications for some time. However, in a major advancement, driverless military vehicles may soon be a common sight on the world’s oceans as well as in the skys.

The US navy has announced the launch of a new experimental self-driving warship that can be used to hunt for enemy submarines. The prototype Sea Hunter is capable of cruising on the surface of the ocean, without a crew or remote control, for up to three months at a time.

Due to this high level of autonomy and endurance it is predicted that this type of vehicle could operate at a fraction of the cost of manned vessels. The US Defense Secretary Robert Work hopes that ships such as these could be deployed in as little as five years – it is about to undergo a two year testing period to ensure it can operate safely at sea – for example, using its international ship tracking programme known as the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to find its bearings and dodge other vessels.

The 132ft vessel is powered by diesel engines and was developed by research agency DARPA as part of its ACTUV programme (Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel).

Although originally developed as a submarine hunter, the US military claim that the vessel could be used for a number of other missions do to its payload capacity.

The advent of this technology comes at a time when US naval power is being challenged, particularly in the South China Sea, by the significant investment made in the Chinese navy over the last 20 years.

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