Or more accurately, the US Navy wants to own the world’s largest ‘robotic’ ships. Namely, in the form of what has been titled the Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LUSV).
Recently, the UK’s Royal Navy’s dangerously low number of ships has been highlighted by events in the Persian Gulf, with Iran seizing a British-flagged oil tanker and threatening further such actions. Simply constructing fresh hulls, however, is not a complete solution, as manning them with sufficient numbers of trained personnel is vital. After all, what good is a ship if it has no crew?
The US Navy, however, fresh from its experiences with the unmanned Sea Hunter, which recently sailed from the mainland to Hawaii, now feels technology has matured sufficiently to provide for warships of around 200-300 feet with a displacement of approximately 2,000 tons, making it the largest unmanned ship in existence, equating to a light frigate. The LUSV is intended to allow for both fully autonomous and remotely-piloted missions. with the obvious added advantage of lengthy endurance. Built with a large mission-configurable payload capacity, LUSV’s can operate independently or in conjunction with other ships. Provisions for a small human crew will exist, if this is considered necessary.
While primarily intended for use as over-the-horizon scouts, sailing ahead of manned ships for early threat detection, anti-ship and cruise missiles will be optional. However, at this time, no launch systems are scheduled for mounting, which esssentialy makes them floating magazines able to bolster firepower of other warships in the fleet.
Nevertheless, as with the evolution from reconnaissance drones to unmanned strike platforms and, more recently, Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray refuelling tanker, unmanned ships of this scale will allow for more widespread use of automation on the high seas. Maintenance will, of course, forever be a vital necessity and could still require engineering crews to be hastily flown out in the event of mechanical failure. Whether or not they do so on an unmanned helicopter, of course, would not be without its own measure of irony.