Just like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have decreased risks during combat, the US Navy plans to introduce unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) that bring similar capacities to naval warfare. In a recent demonstration, the US Navy launched a missile from its first USV, Ranger, showcasing new combat modes at sea and taking it a step closer to real-world use.
The USVs are being developed by the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) in coordination with the US Navy under the Ghost Fleet Overlord Program. Initiated in 2019, this program is currently in its second phase and it is expected to be completed by 2022. The command and control systems for these "ghost ships" are being supplied by the government. Apart from navigating the challenges of naval operations, the program is also testing payloads, as seen in the video below, before the USVs are handed over to the US Navy for further experimentation.
See the game-changing, cross-domain, cross-service concepts the Strategic Capabilities Office and @USNavy are rapidly developing: an SM-6 launched from a modular launcher off of USV Ranger. Such innovation drives the future of joint capabilities. #DoDInnovates pic.twitter.com/yCG57lFcNW— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) September 3, 2021
Developed by Raytheon, the SM-6 is a two-stage missile that is currently deployed by the US Navy for anti-air and anti-surface warfare and also serving as a defense system against ballistic missiles. Raytheon claims that its missile is deployable on 60 surface ships and more than 500 such missiles have been delivered to the US Navy.
According to a military think tank, the US Navy spends a considerable amount of resources in its anti-submarine warfare (ASW). An efficient way of doing that would be deploying USVs to do these operations that they could do continuously, without fatigue, high accuracy, and yet at a fraction of the cost.
The US Navy has made a decision to commission forty such USVs of which two have been delivered and are undergoing testing. The other USV, NOMAD completed a 5000-mile (8000 km) trip earlier this year, 98 percent of which was autonomous navigation. According to the Department of Defense, another two USVs are currently under construction and will soon be part of the testing program.