WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
The US Navy’s trials of their first autonomous warship platform have been wildly successful.
The US Navy’s new unarmed Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) Sea Hunter has completed its first round of sea trials and it aced all of its tests for speed, manoeuvrability, stability, seakeeping, acceleration, deceleration, and fuel consumption, as well as mechanical systems reliability on the open sea.
Built by defence firm Leidos for a mere $20ml and co-sponsored by DARPA and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the autonomous 132ft trimaran, which is designed to track potentially hostile submarines for months at a time without a crew, was launched earlier this year on April 9 at the Swan Island shipyard in Portland, Oregon.
While Sea Hunter had a pilot on board for the initial trials, and is currently equipped with a temporary pilot house the next trials, set to start next month will have no personnel on board letting Leidos and DARPA test the ships autonomous capabilities. When it’s in service Sea Hunter will operate for around 70 days at sea without a crew and will leave and return to port on its own.
These first round of trials are the beginning of a two year long test program and the next phase of testing will concentrate more on the vessel’s autonomous capabilities with a focus on sensors, the autonomy suite, the ability of the vessel to comply with maritime collision regulations, and what Leidos calls “proof of concept” demonstrations for a variety US Navy missions and from the results we’re seeing so far it isn’t too hard to see the Sea Hunter being just the first in a long line of autonomous warships. The only question we, and many others have, is when will they be armed and then, eventually, who will have control of those new weapons systems in the long run.
The world of warfare is changing and it’s changing fast.