US Navy's Robo-Ships Could Take on Submarine Warfare

A military think tank has outlined the importance of the US Navy's future autonomous fleets.
Chris Young
The US Navy's autonomous 'Sea Hunter' vessel.US Navy/John F. Williams/Wikimedia Commons

A military think thank, the Hudson Institute, says the US Navy should assign its incoming fleet of uncrewed warships to anti-submarine warfare (ASW).

ASW has earned the nickname "Awfully Slow Warfare" in military circles due to long uneventful periods military personnel must spend on duty, punctuated by brief eventful moments.

With the US Navy in the process of issuing contracts for up to 40 medium unmanned surface vehicles (MUSVs), the Hudson Institue has released a report on how these vehicles would be best utilized taking over on the ASW front.


A scalable, cost-efficient 'ghost fleet'

The US Navy believes its "ghost fleet" can help to solve the problem of overly expensive, manned warships by doing the same job at a fraction of the price. By doing that, the service believes it can increase its fleet capacity and have a greater number of ships ready for peace or war time.

ASW is a heavily procedural task. It involves detecting and tracking enemy submarines after long periods of tracking. Small details such as eccentricities in Earth's local magnetic field must be monitored in order to pick up telltale signs of a nearby sub.

As such, the Hudson Institute report highlights how unmanned vessels could take on these often tedious, unforgiving, and dangerous tasks.

By doing so the US Navy would be benefitting the personnel that would usually be tasked with these jobs at the same time as providing a use case, and a justification, for the millions of taxpayer dollars that are going towards building these unmanned fleets, the report claims.

'A small window of opportunity'

The report details how unmanned vehicle operations for ASW would have to be implemented over time: "to provide time to mature these technologies, the unmanned ASW approach would be implemented over 5 to 10 years," the report says. "Substituting manned platforms with unmanned systems over time in day-to-day and responsive ASW operations."

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The report emphasizes the fact that the US Navy and its allies have a "small window of opportunity" in which to find the best operational fit for their unmanned vessels. Otherwise, there is a risk that" rising procurement and O&S costs for the current manned ASW portfolio and flat or declining budgets will" negatively affect adoption and investment of new ASW concepts.

As BreakingDefence reports, the Navy is in the process of completing its roadmap for how it will operate its coming unmanned fleet, which will likely be published within the upcoming fleet structure report, expected to be completed some time this fall.