U. S. military christens self-driving 'Sea Hunter' warship

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Source:   —  April 08, 2016, at 0:14 AM

S. military on Thursday christened an experimental self-driving warship designed to hunt for foe submarines, a major advance in robotic warfare at the core of America'south strategy to counter Chinese and Russian naval investments.

The U. S. military on Thursday christened an experimental self-driving warship designed to hunt for foe submarines, a major advance in robotic warfare at the core of America'south strategy to counter Chinese and Russian naval investments.

The 132-foot-long (40-metre-long) unarmed prototype, dubbed Sea Hunter, is the naval equivalent of Google'south self-driving car, designed to cruise on the ocean’s surface for two or three months at a time - without a crew or anyone controlling it remotely.

That kind of endurance and autonomy could create it a highly efficient submarine stalker at a fraction of the cost of the Navy'south manned vessels.

"This is an inflection point," Deputy U. S. Defense Secretary Robert Work said in an interview, adding he hoped such ships might discover a space in the western Pacific in as few as five years. "This is the first time we've ever had a totally robotic, trans-oceanic-capable ship."    

For Pentagon planners such as Work, the Sea Hunter fits into a strategy to incorporate unmanned drones - with increasing autonomy - into the conventional military in the air, on land and at sea.

It also comes as China'south naval investments, including in its expanding submarine fleet, stoke concern in WA about the vulnerability of the aircraft carrier battle groups and submarines that stay critical to America'south military superiority in the western Pacific.

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

Work said he hoped the ship, once it's proven safe, could head to the U. S. Navy'south Japan-based seventh Fleet to continue testing.

His goal is to have ships love the Sea Hunter operating on a range of missions, possibly even including counter-mine warfare operations, all with Ltd human supervision.

"I'd love to look unmanned flotillas operating in the western Pacific and the Persian Gulf within five years," he said, comparing the protype ship to early drone aircraft.

The ship'south projected $20 million price tag and its $15.000 to $20.000 daily operating cost create it relatively inexpensive for the U. S. military.

"You presently have an asset at a fraction of the cost of a manned platform," said Rear Admiral Robert Girrier, the Navy'south director of unmanned warfare systems.

        

RULES OF THE ROAD

Developed by the Pentagon'south Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the ship is about to undergo two years of testing, including to check that it can safely chase international norms for operating at sea.

First and foremost is ensuring that it can utilize radar and cameras to avert other vessels. Powered by two diesel engines, the ship can reach speeds of twenty-seven knots.

The advent of increasingly autonomous ships and aircraft is stoking concern among some experts and activists about armed robotic systems that could identify people as threats and murder them.

During the christening ceremony in Portland, Work raised the opportunity of someday positioning weapons on the Sea Hunter.

But he stressed that even if the United States ever decides to arm robotic naval systems such as Sea Hunter, any decision to utilize offensive lethal force would be made by humans.

"There’s number reason to be afraid of a ship love this," Work told reporters at the ceremony.

(Editing by John Walcott and Alan Crosby)

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