China recently launched an unmanned ship, named Zhu Hai Yun, that can be controlled remotely and navigate autonomously in open water and carry dozens of drones, submersibles, and other vessels for conducting ocean research, according to state-run Science and Technology Daily, The EurAsian Times reported.
Meanwhile, South China Morning Post reported that a shipyard in Shanghai appears to be preparing to launch China’s third aircraft carrier, the Type 003, and according to a military source it will take place this Friday - coinciding with the Dragon Boat Festival.
The Zhu Hai Yun unmanned ship is 88.5 meters long, 14 meters wide, and 6.1 meters deep, with a designed displacement of 2,000 tons. It can sail at 13 knots (24 km per hour), with a top speed of 18 knots (33 km per hour).
The expansive deck of the ship can carry dozens of unmanned vehicles, including drones, unmanned ships, and submersibles which are all part of the vessel’s Intelligent Mobile Ocean Stereo Observing System (IMOSOS) developed by the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Zhuhai).
The system is said to be the world’s first and according to Science and Technology Daily, and could be used for marine environment monitoring, marine disaster prevention and mitigation, offshore wind farm maintenance, and providing accurate marine information.
Construction of the Zhu Hai Yun began in July last year in Guangzhou by the Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard, a subsidiary of China’s largest shipbuilding company, the China State Shipbuilding Corporation. The ship will begin sea trials shortly, after which it is planned to be delivered by the end of this year.
Rapid development in artificial intelligence has made way for the increased role of unmanned platforms for the purposes of maritime security, controlling sea lanes, and competing for marine resources. The Chinese PLA Navy has also been working on an uncrewed surface vessel (USV), known as JARI, developed by CSSC (China State Shipbuilding Corporation), specifically by their No. 702 Research Institute and No. 716 Research Institute.
The small 15.24 meter-long craft has been described as a mini-destroyer because of its ambitious weapons and sensor fit. With a remote weapons station (RWS), it is planned to be equipped with a small vertical launch system (VLS) for surface to air missiles and two lightweight torpedo tubes, while its sensors will include phased-array radars, electro-optical devices, and sonar.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) first revealed JARI as a model in 2018, launched a prototype in August 2019, and conducted sea trials in January 2020.
Several other navies foresee USVs at the heart of their future strategies, such as the US Navy, setting up an entire operational command dedicated to testing and developing its next-generation USVs, known as the Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One. Apart from the US and China, UK, Australia, Singapore, and Turkey are also among the early adopters of USVs for their navies.
The Zhu Hai Yun is not only an unmanned ship but also a ‘drone carrier’, possibly a prelude to PLAN’s Type 076 landing helicopter dock (LHD), which is under development and said to be capable of carrying Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs).
Type 076 is the next-generation assault carrier currently being developed as a successor to PLAN’s Type-075 LHD. It will be equipped with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system, or EMALS, for launching planes from aircraft carriers. A similar system is fitted to the US Navy’s Ford-class aircraft carriers.
Reports suggest that China’s stealthy GJ-11 Sharp Sword UCAV may be one of the drones being planned to board the Type 076 LHD, based on a CG simulation released last year by the China Aviation Industry Group at the Zhuhai Airshow.
The simulation depicted the stealthy drone taking off from a ship having a full straight-through deck, not belonging to the Liaoning or Shandong Aircraft carriers and also different from the current Type 075 amphibious assault ship suggesting it may be the Type 076 LHD.
The GJ-11 UAV is 12.2 meters long, with a wingspan of 14.4 meters and a height of 2.7 meters, and has a maximum takeoff weight of over 10 tons with an estimated payload estimated of around 1.9 tons, and a combat radius of over 1,500 kilometers with an endurance of six hours.