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US Navy Wants Marine Drone Swarms to Counter Taiwan Invasion

The US Navy wants to field a swarm of armed small unmanned surface vessel interceptors from 2025.

Industry submissions for the vessels and the technology to help them coordinate are being sought under the Production-Ready, Inexpensive, Maritime Expeditionary (PRIME) project.

Both the selected solutions will be paired following a review. 

Swift prototyping and demonstration are expected followed by fielding from spring 2025.

Moreover, the selected contractor should be able to produce 120 or more vehicles annually.

A Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vessel at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia. Image: Sgt. Kealii De Los Santos/ US Marine Corps

To Counter China in Taiwan

Citing an unnamed defense official, USNI News revealed that the PRIME project is tied to the Pentagon’s Replicator initiative to counter growing Chinese military capability.

Whereas the Replicator comprises thousands of aerial drones, a maritime swarm could work with dozens of unmanned boats.

“This is their effort to try to get some new kinetic, lethal USV fielded that can be employed probably in a western Pacific context – maybe the Strait of Taiwan,” the outlet quoted naval analyst Bryan Clark as saying.

“They want to go out to the commercial world and say, ‘Alright, what do you got in terms of kinetic, lethal USVs that can be produced at scale’.”

Expected Features

The platform should have a range of 500 to 1,000 nautical miles (926-1,852 kilometers/575-1,151 miles) in moderate seas and a payload capacity of 1,000 pounds (453 kilograms).

The diesel-powered craft should have a minimum speed of 35 knots in low seas and a loitering capacity of several days with enough fuel for return transit.

It should be able to autonomously avoid maritime hazards and collisions with other vessels and be able to operate in a GNSS-denied environment.

The long-range system should be “capable of autonomously transiting hundreds of miles through contested waterspace, loitering in an assigned operating area while monitoring for maritime surface threats, and then sprinting to interdict a noncooperative, maneuvering vessel,” a Defense Innovation Unit solicitation states.

“Interceptors will need to operate in cohesive groups and execute complex autonomous behaviors that adapt to the dynamic, evasive movements of the pursued vessel.”

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