US Tests “Sea Hunter,” World’s Largest Unmanned Ship

Reuters The Telegraph06.05.2016 North America
US Tests “Sea Hunter,” World’s Largest Unmanned Ship

The autonomous ship “Sea Hunter” after its christening ceremony in Portland, Oregon (Photo Credit: Steve Dipaola, Reuters)

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The US military has begun tests on the world’s largest unmanned ship, a self-driving 130ft vessel which can hunt down enemy submarines without a single sailor at the helm.

Dubbed the “Sea Hunter,” the vessel was developed by the Pentagon’s research wing, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and cost around $20 million dollars to build - a relatively cheap venture by American military’s standards.

It has already been hailed as the military equivalent of Google’s self-driving cars and can sail on its own for up to three months.

This week’s test focuses on the ship’s ability to detect other vessels and avoid collisions with them. Though the test version of Sea Hunter uses human controllers, the finished product will be able to carry out naval operations without any crew members on board.

The ship does not even need to be remotely controlled, and instead relies upon its own AI system which takes commands at the “mission level,” according to DARPA researchers.

The US Navy’s mission command simply tells the ship where to go, and it then charters its own course to an “area of uncertainty” which may contain enemy submarines.

The unmanned ship then relies upon its short range radar to detect diesel-electric submarines, though it is also capable of tracking down mines.

At this stage there are no plans to arm the vessel and any decisions to attack other submarines would be made by humans, it was stressed.

The project forms part of the Pentagon’s wider strategy to introduce unmanned drones on a large scale into the US military in the air, on land and at sea.

However, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents more than one million sailors across the world, insists that the technology should never replace human workers.

“For our military operations we want to make sure we have unmanned vessels like this to supplement the human mission so that we're not putting people unduly in harm’s way,” DARPA spokesman Jared Adams told the American defense website Stars and Stripes.

The tests on the unmanned ship - officially called the ASW Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) - come amid heightened tensions between the US and China, as well as Russia.

“We're not working on anti-submarine (technology) just because we think it's cool. We're working on it because we're deeply concerned about the advancements that China and Russia are making in this space,” author Peter Singer, an expert on robotic warfare at the New America Foundation think tank, told Reuters.

China’s rapid naval expansion in the South China sea is already a source of major concern for the US, as Washington has several large aircraft carriers and submarines in the area which allow it to remain the superior military force in the western Pacific.



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