Monday, May 02, 2016

U.S. Navy Introduces Its First Sea Drone

by JASmius

It isn't anything nearly as badass as the Russians' Kanyon nuclear ballistic missile submarine drone that can incinerate enemy (i.e our) nuclear ballistic missile submarine bases, nor is it a stealth surface vessel like the Sea Shadow, or even an advanced littoral combat ship like the Sea Fighter.

But the Sea Hunter does look like it could be entered in the America's Cup:

The military is about to begin testing an unmanned Naval ship that was designed to cross oceans without a single crew member on board.

The 132-foot Sea Hunter was on display in San Diego Monday. It will next sail to a Naval base for testing and seaworthiness, reports the Associated Press. If all goes well, the ship will be able to ditch its human crew that's on board for testing and sail on its own for months at a time. The project was a partnership between the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and Leidos.

"For our military operations we want to make sure we have unmanned vessels like this to supplement the human mission so that we're not putting people unduly in harm's way," DARPA spokesman Jared B. Adams said.

That begs the question of just exactly for what manner of "military missions" the Sea Hunter has been constructed.  Fortunately, Wikipedia comes to the rescue again:

The initially unarmed prototype, built at a cost of twenty million dollars, is a 132-foot (forty meter)-long trimaran (a central hull with two outriggers). It is an unmanned self-piloting craft with twin screws, powered by two diesel engines with a top speed of twenty-seven knots (thirty-one mph; fifty km/h). Its weight is 135 tons, including forty tons of fuel, adequate for a seventy-day cruise. Cruising range is "transoceanic," ten thousand nautical miles (twelve thousand mi; nineteen thousand km) at twelve knots (fourteen mph; twenty-two km/h).  Sea Hunter has a full load displacement of 145 tons and is intended to be operational through Sea State 5, waves up to 6.5 ft (2.0 m) high and winds up to twenty-one knots (twenty-four mph; thirty-nine km/h), and survivable through Sea State 7, seas up to twenty ft (6.1 m) high.

Hence, its stabilizing lateral projections.

A removable operator control station is installed during the testing period "for safety and backup" until it can be determined to reliably operate on its own. Operationally, computers will drive and control the ship, with a human always observing and taking charge if necessary in a concept called Sparse Supervisory Control, meaning a person is in control, but not "joy sticking" the vessel around.  It can patrol without human guidance, using optical guidance and radar to avoid hitting obstacles or other watercraft. The ship has a host of non-standard features because of its lack of crew, including an internal layout that offers enough room for maintenance to be performed but not for any people to be permanently present.

Which is a circuitous way of saying that the Sea Hunter is comparatively cheap and doesn't have to be nearly as big as a warship because it needs no crew quarters, heads, mess halls, supplies storage, etc.  In an era where resources for the fading U.S. military are inexorably and irretrievably drying up, you can see the attractiveness of unmanned vehicles of every sort as an economizing measure.

As a combat measure, that's another story.

It is expected to undergo two years of testing before being placed in service with the U.S. Navy. If tests are successful, future such craft may be armed and used for anti-submarine and counter-mine duties, operating at a small fraction of the cost of operating a destroyer, $15,000-$20,000 per day compared to $700,000 per day; it could operate with Littoral Combat Ships, becoming an extension of the LCS ASW module.  Deputy U.S. Defense [Commissar] Robert Work said that if weapons are added to the ship, a human would always remotely make the decision to use lethal force.

This may or may not conflict with the comments of program manager Scott Littlefield, who said that the Sea Hunter will not be controlled remotely. Rather, commands will be input into its computer and the diesel-powered ship will do everything by itself.  That implies only navigation, but combat operations, which would be consistent with the orders of magnitude more variables that would come into play once a combat situation were to begin, unless, as with the Valkyrie droid, dramatic advances in artificial intelligence had been made in complete secrecy.  Which, given the level of cybersecurity in the Obama Regime, seems gapingly impossible.

Still, it seems that reality still has a long ways to go to catch up with the movies.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that the HammerDrones were better than Tony Stark's cheerleaders, but the Sea Hunter?  That's another story.

Though I'd settle for an unmanned nuclear ballistic missile submarine that could incinerate Murmansk, Sevastopol, and Vladivostok.

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