Every two years, the United States Army assembles forces in Honolulu to train for warfare in the Pacific. This year, the exercise will feature a formation of fully unmanned robot boats. Announced on May 13, the new “Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One,” or USVDIV One, will allow the Navy and the rest of the military to train to wage war with and alongside giant marine drones. As the military prepares for a potential future war, it will do so alongside a whole new class of machines.
“USVDIV One will be a catalyst for innovation as we utilize unmanned surface capabilities in the Pacific Fleet,” said Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener, who presided over the ceremony. establishing USVDIV One. “Implementing unmanned systems will increase decision speed and lethality to improve our combat advantage.”
Division-specific ships include the Sea Hunter and Sea Hawk, sister ships built for DARPA’s anti-submarine warfare program. These boats were designed for long continuous operations, with sensors pointed under the sea to find and track submarines hiding in the vastness of the ocean.
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Sea Hunter and Sea Hawk previously took part in a military exercise in April 2021, where they were used for scouting, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. The admiral in charge of this exercise says C4ISRNET that “one scenario in the exercise required drones to extend the view of a warship to fire a long-range missile”.
The Rim of the Pacific exercise held in Honolulu, or RIMPAC, has long been a testing ground for new concepts as commanders and troops work alongside new machines to see if they will perform as intended in harsh environments. simulated fights. It was a financial year 2014 this revealed the unsuitability of the Marine Corps’ Legged Squad Support System robot for warfare, as it proved too strong in exercises to be considered safe for combat.
It is likely that at RIMPAC, Sea Hunter and Sea Hawk will be used similarly, with sensors used to extend the perception range of existing weapons based on other vehicles. One of the merits of unmanned vehicles is that they can extend the perception of the rest of the fleet without similarly extending the vulnerability of sailors in the same way as a manned and manned ship.
Beyond the two Sea Hunter-style ships, the unmanned division will include Nomad and Ranger. While Sea Hunter and Sea Hawk were designed to be unmanned from the start, Nomad and Ranger are converted from boats used to resupply offshore infrastructure like oil rigs and wind farms. In previous exercises, the Ranger was used to fire a missile, demonstrating that unmanned ships could contribute firepower as well as spotting and resupply.
Jerry Daley, commander of USVDIV-1, told a media round table that the four ships will be dispersed during the RIMPAC exercise and will work with different commanders to receive and follow orders, as well as operate readout payloads, which will include sensors and may include other capabilities.
If the use of unmanned ships at RIMPAC is to be a catalyst for a faster, deadlier, and more capable navy, it is worth taking a step back to examine how this vision and understanding has yet to truly develop.
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Ultimately, the Navy’s planned method of fighting future wars at sea is to bring more missiles into the fight and ensure those missiles hit targets accurately. Unmanned scouts like the Sea Hunter can offer better information for targeting these weapons. Adapted remote-controlled boats like Nomad and Ranger can carry missiles and use them under human direction or resupply manned ships with missile tubes. But if the navy is serious about augmenting its existing crewed fleets with more missile tubes, without dramatically increasing the cost or manpower requirements of sailors, it will need to build and field dedicated missile boats. .
This was the concept behind the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel, the program that ultimately adapted the Nomad and Ranger from existing ships. This came after the LUSV’s 2021 budget was greatly reducedand with it the promise to build a new hull-up vessel for this purpose.
At RIMPAC, unmanned ships will allow the Navy to explore how it uses ships, and more so, it will give commanders in the field the opportunity to see what more these vehicles could bring. The RIMPAC exercise will begin in June and will continue until August. With it, the Navy will be able to see if the robot ships it has on hand offer a future promise it wants to work towards, or if the whole vision of robots and humans fighting side by side at sea needs to be rethought. .