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US Navy Expediting Drone Ship Development to Keep Up With China

The US Navy is ramping up its development of cutting-edge drone ships to keep pace with China’s growing fleet of autonomous naval platforms.

Drone ships are expected to keep an electronic eye on enemy forces, particularly in the Pacific Ocean, and boost US Navy firepower.

In addition to developing the robotic platforms, the service will evaluate how its radars and sensors can be fitted with artificial intelligence and integrated with traditional warships to create a more resilient, networked fleet.

A networked fleet of manned and unmanned naval vehicles could conduct missions at extended ranges, making them more difficult to destroy.

“It’s about moving the technology forward and having confidence in the capability. Everything takes time,” US Navy Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One Cmdr. Jeremiah Daley told Associated Press.

Four of the largest drone ships deployed by the navy will take part in a multinational naval exercise in the Pacific Ocean this summer.

Other smaller robotic naval platforms are already being deployed in the Middle East.

Role in Military Success

The perceived critical role of unmanned vessels in military success is evident in the US Navy’s budget proposal submitted for the next fiscal year.

Around $433 million has been requested to develop crewless surface vessels, while an additional $284 million has been targeted toward new underwater vehicles.

The service said its cost-effective drone ships could bolster weapon range, scouting capabilities, and command and control.

However, such advantages must be proven through tests in a harsh saltwater environment.

“We’re sort of in Jerry Maguire ‘show me the money’ territory with the tech,” Naval War College professor James Holmes explained. “It will undoubtedly be useful, but whether it will be a game-changer is far less clear.”

China’s Growing Fleet

China continues to tap local defense firms to develop and acquire cutting-edge naval platforms to bolster its maritime capabilities.

In 2019, state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation launched the JARI combat unmanned surface vessel capable of using artificial intelligence to navigate autonomously.

The boat is equipped with a phased array radar system, satellite communications, electro-optical systems, and weapons including a 30-mm automatic gun and anti-ship missiles.

Chinese state media reported earlier this year that the country’s second Type 055 warship is combat-ready after undergoing intensive maritime drills.

Regarded as the largest and most advanced destroyer in China’s naval arsenal, the “Lhasa” participated in an eight-day exercise that featured radar detection and fire simulation.

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