US planning unmanned submarine warfare

Saturday, 27 August, 2016 - 18:15

The 16-metre-long Boeing Echo Voyager will have no crew. It will glide underwater for days or weeks, quietly collecting data from the ocean floor to send back to crews on ships or on land.

Ever since the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, the US military has relied more and more on flying drones to take on dangerous air missions. But increasingly, drones are taking to the sea as well.

The US Navy has proposed about $319 million (Dh1.17 billion) for the development and purchase of underwater drones in the president’s budget for the coming fiscal year. It envisions them stealthily gathering intelligence on opponents, detecting and neutralising mines, hunting submarines and charting the ocean floor.

Last year, the Navy created the first deputy assistant secretary position focused on managing the development of unmanned systems, including underwater, surface and aerial efforts.

Recent advances in autonomy, data transmission and miniaturised computing power coincide with the military’s increased interest in finding ways to integrate unmanned systems into its war planning.

It’s part of a much broader strategy to leverage artificial intelligence and stay one step ahead of rivals, as the Pentagon did with guided weapons in the 1990s.

“As tensions continue to grow with China and Russia, two militaries that have sophisticated and very large navies, there is a growing interest in making use of unmanned technology in the maritime sphere,” said Arthur Holland Michel, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York.