US Navy Unmanned ‘Sea Hunter’.
The Sea Hunter is designed for anti-submarine warfare and could revolutionize naval warfare
as it is “the first of what could ultimately become an entirely new class of ocean-going
vessel able to traverse thousands of kilometers over open seas for months at a time, without
a single crew member aboard,” DARPA said in a January
The vessel, which also goes under the “Fleet-class” unmanned boat classification, is a small,
40-foot ship originally designed to deploy from littoral ships to thwart underwater mines.
The ship sends out electronic signals to detonate mines that listen for audio or electromagnetic
signals from larger ships, Maritime Executive notes.
An autonomous surface ship dubbed the “Sea Hunter” has officially been passed along
to the US Navy after completing two years of testing in the Defense Advanced Research
Project Agency’s (DARPA’s). While it’s not clear when the Office of Naval
Research will transfer the ship into the regular fleet for everyday operations, DARPA’s statement
hints that it could be integrated with the rest of the US Navy by the end of the year.
The Sea Hunter’s name is somewhat misleading as to the vessel’s capabilities. The 127-foot-long
ship is outfitted for surveillance and is not equipped with any weapons, due in large
part to the fact that it has no human at the helm. In a 2016 interview with Reuters, former
Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said, “there’s no reason to be afraid of a ship
like this.” The Navy will also examine possibilities to
“develop and integrate surface warfare payloads” onto the vessel, including “various missiles,
designators, sensors and remote weapon stations,” Textron said in a joint announcement with
Naval Sea Systems Command. The unmanned ship is guided by a remote operator
aboard a littoral combat ship and can last at sea. The design of the ship was specifically
tailored to be “modular,” or ready to handle new uses in the future beyond mine-countermeasures.
Nevertheless, the vessel’s creation marks a significant turning point in how the US
Navy operates. Likening the world’s oceans to a chess board, Fred Kennedy, tactical technology
office director at DARPA, said, “the US military has talked about the strategic importance
of replacing ‘king’ and ‘queen’ pieces on the maritime chess board with lots of ‘pawns.'”
Ultimately, the Sea Hunter “represents a new vision of naval surface warfare that trades
small numbers of very capable, high-value assets for large numbers of commoditized,
simpler platforms that are more capable in aggregate,” Kennedy said.
The ship is far cheaper to construct than many naval vessels, with a price tag of only
about $20 million, according to Digital Trends. By comparison, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer,
the US Navy’s present anti-submarine surface vessel, costs a cool $1.8 billion.
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