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US Navy Tests Unmanned Saildrone Explorer

US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) has conducted the first operational test of its Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel (USV) as part of an initiative to integrate cutting-edge technologies into the service’s 5th Fleet operations.

Measuring 23 feet long and 16 feet tall, the robotic vessel utilizes the wind to navigate. It is equipped with solar panels to power onboard computers and sensors with artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

The boat can be equipped with an acoustic payload for specific mission requirements, such as a single-beam or multibeam sonar for bathymetry, an echo sounder for fisheries surveys, or an acoustic doppler current profiler for water current measurements.

The Saildrone Explorer can also be used to conduct autonomous long-range data collection missions for up to 12 months without returning to port for maintenance or refueling.

“Our Saildrones leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to enhance maritime domain awareness, extending the digital horizon with a sustainable, zero-carbon solution,” NAVCENT commander Michael Brasseur explained in a press release.

In addition to supporting data-gathering missions, the US Navy will utilize the unmanned vessel to patrol the Red Sea.

Joint Hub for Future Saildrones

The US military has reportedly focused on integrating AI technologies into its high-powered weapons and equipment to increase its domain awareness during missions.

One of the navy’s digital innovation priorities was to incorporate technologies that can expand operations and data networks to increase its reach.

To achieve these goals, the US has announced that the Royal Jordanian naval base in Aqaba would become a joint hub for future Saildrone operations in the Red Sea.

“These are exciting times for Task Force 59 as we team with the Royal Jordanian Navy to establish our hub for Red Sea operations in Aqaba and deploy some of our new maritime robotics,” Brasseur said.

In addition to Saildrone Explorers, the US Navy continues to evaluate and integrate small, autonomous vessels alongside crewed ships in the Arabian Gulf. Earlier this month, the service also conducted an operational test of a similar system off the coast of Bahrain.

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