US Navy's autonomous warship will soon trawl the seas

The U.S. Navy has a 132ft unarmed "self-driving" warship, and it has named it Sea Hunter. Much like Google's car, Sea Hunter is able to operate on its own, cruising the oceans in hunt of unwelcome submarines. Unlike manned warships, though, Sea Hunter won't require any human operators on board, and as such will cost only a sliver of current manned ships. DARPA recently showed off the then-unnamed warship on video.

Sea Hunter is the first of what could one day be a fleet of autonomous warships, and it is designed to find enemy submarines. Such autonomous warships are for the Navy what drones are for the Army, and seems to be, at least in part, an effort to counter China's increasing number of submarine vessels. Joining self-operated drones and self-driving cars, the technology helps round out the U.S. military's autonomous prowess across land, sea, and sky.

While Sea Hunter is still a prototype, the military anticipates having autonomous vessels in various parts of the oceans within the next half decade, increasing their missions and presence as the technology is refined. In addition to monitoring enemy vessels, autonomous ships — as well as cars and drones — could be used to hunt down enemy mines, reducing the risk to human life.

Sea Hunter comes with big costs, but ones that are small relative to other expenses incurred by the U.S. military — the warship's estimated final price tag will come in somewhere around $20 million, and the operating costs will average somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000 per day.

Still, it's going to be a while before Sea Hunter reaches the non-prototype stage, and researchers currently have two years of testing planned for the immediate future. During this time, DARPA — the Pentagon's so-called mad science division — will ensure the ship is safe in terms of following international regulations and operating in the same manner a manned vessel would, as well as properly avoiding other vessels it may come across while cruising.

As the video above shows, Sea Hunter has been clocked going as fast as 27 knots.

Said New America Foundation robotic warfare export Peter Singer:

We're not working on anti-submarine (technology) just because we think it's cool. We're working on it because we're deeply concerned about the advancements that China and Russia are making in this space ... [however], there's no reason to be afraid of a ship like this.

SOURCE: Reuters