US sends a task group of naval drones to the Middle East

WASHINGTON – In the future, naval operations are expected to rely more and more on unmanned ships, whether autonomous or remote, as well as on aerial drones, whether onboard or not, learned BulgarianMilitary.com, citing opex360. In any case, several initiatives in this direction have been launched in recent years, particularly in the United States, where the US Navy sees it as a means of gaining “mass” compared to its Chinese counterpart, which is now able to align more than 300 buildings.

Future of the US Navy lies in small, deadly and fast drone ships
Photo credti: DARPA

In 2019, the Pentagon’s Office of Strategic Capabilities [SCO] launched the “Ghost Fleet Overlord” program to accelerate the integration of autonomous ships into the US Navy. As part of this, two Unmanned Surface Vessel, USV, the Ranger, and the Nomad, were developed.

The former was successfully engaged in an exercise involving “traditional” US Navy ships. As for the second, last June, it covered 4,421 nautical miles between the Gulf of Mexico and San Diego in autonomous mode. Only the transit through the Panama Canal was supervised by an operator.

“Autonomy is not limited to crossing large areas of the ocean in a straight line: it also involves elements such as collision avoidance and compliance with rules at sea,” the SCO explained to the ‘era.

To these two ships, which will come under the authority of the US Navy from 2022, we must also add the “Sea Hunter”, a boat which, helmed from a distance or able to navigate autonomously, was developed in the part of the ACTUV [Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel] project, launched in 2012 by DARPA, the Pentagon’s research agency.

These USVs will come in addition to unmanned underwater vehicles [UUV – Unmanned Underwater Vehicles] and aerial drones. One of the challenges will therefore be to make them maneuver together… amid crewed ships. This was the aim of the exercise “Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem 21”, [UxS IBP 21], held last April, off the coast of California. And this is what “Task Force 59” [TF 59], which the US Navy has just created within the 5th Fleet, whose headquarters are located in Bahrain, will try to do.

This has several operational forces, each with a specific role. Thus, TF 50 and 51 focus on naval air operations while TF 52, 54, and 55 deal respectively with mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and surface warfare.

According to a US Navy spokesperson, quoted by AFP, this TF 59 will therefore be “dedicated to the rapid integration of unmanned systems and artificial intelligence into maritime operations in the region”. And it will aim “to improve our knowledge in the maritime field and on the other hand, to strengthen our deterrence capacity“, added Admiral Brad Cooper, the head of NAVCENT, that is to say of the naval forces under the US Centcom, the US command for the Middle East and Central Asia.

“I think this environment suits us to speed up our experiments. And we believe that if the new systems can work here, they can probably work anywhere else and adapt to other fleets,” said Admiral Cooper.

For the moment, it is not known what exactly the resources of this TF 59 will be. Regarding aerial drones, it should however implement MQ-9 Sea Guardians as well as MQ-4C Triton and MQ-8B Fire Scout. Or even gear assessed during the “UxS IBP 21” exercise. However, not all of them have yet been declared operational, such as the Sea Hunter and its alter ego, the SeaHawk.

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