DARPA Asks for Help Completing its Flotilla of Drone Warships

By Nicholas West

In April 2016 I reported that DARPA was hard at work on a plan to introduce 132-foot “Sea Hunter” drone warships to the world’s waterways within 5 years. Seemingly behind schedule, DARPA is now releasing some more details about their plans to update the artificial intelligence program for the Navy and Marines, but is soliciting help to complete the project.

Although mainstream media playfully compared the project it to a sea-bound version of Google’s self-driving car, in 2016 DARPA described it as follows:

DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program has designed, developed and constructed an entirely new class of ocean-going vessel—one intended to traverse thousands of kilometers over the open seas for months at a time, all without a single crew member aboard.

The “Continuous Trail” portion of the program appears to have been re-branded as “Sea Trains” — essentially a flotilla of several connected ships that can operate independently or in coordinated maneuvers without any human direction.

Officials recommend fleets of connected or connectorless Sea Trains that essentially create a mid-body for the vessel to decrease wave-making resistance while also allowing for the vessels to separate and conduct tactical missions independently. The agency also suggests “formation sea trains,” or a fleet made up of four or more vessels that travel closely and exploit wave interference between one another while in transit. (Source: Nextgov)

Part of the recent announcement was also to reveal that a single Sea Hunter did complete a long-distance autonomous journey from San Diego to Hawaii and back. However, it appears that the grander vision of a flotilla of these ships traversing the oceans will not make the initial 2021 deadline, as the recent solicitation puts a new 36-month timeline on the project.

I suppose we should treat this cautiously as good news. Although, probably not good for the taxpayer. When the project was first announced, Reuters reported a price tag of $20 million per warship and operating costs of up to $20,000 per day. Seeing how far behind schedule this is, one can only imagine how the costs are mounting. Of course, the U.S. military is emboldened by nearly unlimited funds to experiment with whatever it wants, which often leads to staggering boondoggles of waste and worthlessness like its $4 billion warship USS Zumwalt that fires rounds at $800K a pop. If you can stomach it, other such projects are listed here.

Nevertheless, we can’t dismiss the much wider desire to see a full matrix of war where all systems on land, in the air, and below the surface will communicate and orchestrate missions absent human input. We have seen the U.S. repeatedly work with allies in coordinated drills like Unmanned Warrior to test and promote this eventuality. Although this larger Sea Hunter is claimed by the U.S. military to be a patrol ship only, Unmanned Warrior tested swarms of drone speedboats that could attack targets without human input. It was also announced recently that the U.S. Navy’s Orca submarine drone (produced by Boeing) could incorporate more offensive capabilities such as mine laying and eventually torpedoes.

Writing in the highly regarded U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) blog, retired Commander Brian Dulla argues that the U.S. Navy should invest in mine laying capabilities. It’s an arena where large drones like the Orca could have advantages.

[…]

The Orca is up to 85 feet long, an order of magnitude larger than anything else out there as the moment. It has a flexible payload section which is large enough to carry multiple torpedo sized payloads. Initially these could be smaller UUVs. In the future they could be Tomahawk cruise missiles, or as the USNI article implies, mines. (Source: Forbes)

In the meantime, here is the latest video coverage of the Sea Hunter.

Nicholas West writes for Activist Post. Support us at Patreon for as little as $1 per month. Follow us on Minds, Steemit, SoMee, BitChute, Facebook and Twitter. Ready for solutions? Subscribe to our premium newsletter Counter Markets.

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