Drones at Sea

 

Even the US Navy is getting into drones:

Which isn’t alarming, really — it’s comforting, I think, more than the flying-around variety. From Vice News:

On Sunday, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) announced the addition of “drone gunboats” to the US military’s growing family of militarized robots. Developed using existing NASA technology, the robo-boats could be deployed within the year to protect bigger ships or to swarm an enemy with kamikaze-like coordinated attacks.

The program was partly prompted by the 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole by al Qaeda. In the attack, suicide bombers drove a boat laden with explosives into the hull of the guided-missile destroyer as it refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 US sailors.

Robert Brizzarola, head of the drone boat program, told reporters Sunday that robot technology will allow US Navy personnel to more rapidly respond to dangerous situations with reduced risk to human lives.

“It will remove our sailors and marines from many dangerous situations — for instance when they need to approach hostile or suspicious vessels,” Brizzarola said.

Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, Chief of Naval Research, added, “If Cole had been supported by autonomous unmanned surface vessels, they could have stopped that attack.”

What it suggests, though, is a two-tiered approach to modern warfare. Tier one is the drone/robot force, doing dangerous but easily automated work. Tier two is the “smart force,” doing (even more) dangerous but impossible to automate work, like training local armies, counterinsurgency, urban warfare, that sort of thing.

It also suggests a terrible calculus. The things we have a lot of — money, technology, etc. — we don’t mind spending. Our enemies are short of money and technology, but have people aplenty, so they they’re equally wonton with them. The near future might really look like something out of a sci-fi picture, with our robots killing their human soldiers.

I don’t see a way around that, of course. But it will be disquieting, won’t it?

There are 23 comments.

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  1. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Rob Long: It also suggests a terrible calculus. The things we have a lot of — money, technology, etc. — we don’t mind spending. Our enemies are short of money and technology, but have people aplenty, so they they’re equally wonton with them. The near future might really look like something out of a sci-fi picture, with our robots killing their human soldiers.

    I’m okay with this.

    Also, I’m now have the Marine Corps Hymn stuck in my head, as sung by a Cylon.

    • #1
  2. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    The Cole was holed due to rules of engagement. It had manned versions of such boats. It also had the options of gunfire and could have had options such as man-portable missiles. It did not have rules of engagement allowing any use of such force.

    What advantage do these swarm boats have over manned versions? What disadvantages do they suffer? Do they lose maneuverability due to a lack of good feedback to an operator? Do they lose flexability? Firing accuracy? Are they jammable? The Iranians claim to be very good at jamming our UAVs.

    I can easily envision these things giving great demos against simulated threats but then seeing an actual swarm of Iranian/terrorist speedboats blasting right through them.

    • #2
  3. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Rob Long: our robots killing their human soldiers.

    More than likely this will lead to their human soldiers killing our human non-soldiers. This is disquieting.

    • #3
  4. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    The operative word is “killing” – which will most likely go on for quite some time, given our lack of interest in engaging islam as the ideological source of this killing urge.

    • #4
  5. user_537146 Inactive
    user_537146
    @PatrickLasswell

    Rob, The US Navy’s been shipping drones since 1775. When you’re lucky, you don’t have to stand watch with them. Eventually your luck runs out. Then you learn what eternity is.

    ctlaw, You are entirely wrong about onsite harbor security craft. The USS Cole had none, which is why she was targeted in Yemen. The craft we had then might not have stopped the attack, but they would have made it much more difficult.

    • #5
  6. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Patrick Lasswell: ctlaw, You are entirely wrong about onsite harbor security craft. The USS Cole had none, which is why she was targeted in Yemen. The craft we had then might not have stopped the attack, but they would have made it much more difficult.

    Didn’t it have rigid hull inflatable boats of the type that form the basis for some of the illustrated drones? Look at the starboard side: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/ba/USN_Arleigh_Burke_Class_Destroyer.JPEG

    Didn’t the guy in the video confirm that and say that this was a control kit that could be applied to such existing boats?

    • #6
  7. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw
    • #7
  8. user_427682 Thatcher
    user_427682
    @JohnStater

    Reminds me a bit of the scramble by the different branches of the military for nuclear weapons in the 20th century. When the Navy and Army thought the Air Force was going to get all of those nuke dollars for their strategic bombers, they got creative. The Navy came up with nuclear missile submarines (a good idea), the Army with nuclear artillery shells (which seems to be a bad idea, but maybe not – I’m no expert). Now the money is in drones, and no bureaucracy wants to be left behind.

    • #8
  9. Foxman Inactive
    Foxman
    @Foxman

    Are our flying drone autonomous? I don’t think so, but I could be wrong. Just how autonomous are these boats? Wouldn’t they need human authorization to fire? Even in battle does not a tank gunner need his tank commander’s order to fire?

    • #9
  10. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    They have aerial drones as well. They just bought something called Triton, which is just USAF’s Global Hawk specialized for a maritime reconnaissance role.

    • #10
  11. gts109 Member
    gts109
    @gts109

    Robopocalypse is on schedule.

    • #11
  12. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    The Navy has had single application, limited range, limited loiter submersible drones for decades.

    They’re called “torpedoes.”

    • #12
  13. Peter Robinson Contributor
    Peter Robinson
    @PeterRobinson

    If this is all supposed to be so high-tech and of-the-moment, then why does the narrator sound like a time traveler from oh, say, 1955?

    • #13
  14. FightinInPhilly Inactive
    FightinInPhilly
    @FightinInPhilly

    You’d prefer something a little more hip hop, Peter? Or perhaps a pretentious Brit like the Apple iPhone introductions. “We in the Navy have simple rethought everything that has EVER been applied to the world of swarming autonomous boats, and its simply BRILLIANT how AMAZING a group of killing machines can be when turned on your enemy. Consider the color of grey that we chose…we consulted with artists from around the world to select precisely the color that would look best when a rocket was launched in your direction…. ”

    That said- these look pretty cool. I like the idea of a boat projecting fleet strength.

    • #14
  15. user_537146 Inactive
    user_537146
    @PatrickLasswell

    ctlaw,

    The grocery store might have a great Thanksgiving meal on the shelves, but at go time it does not matter when the ovens are cold and the lights are out. The USS Cole did not have harbor security in place. That was a State Dept. failure.

    • #15
  16. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Patrick Lasswell:ctlaw,

    The grocery store might have a great Thanksgiving meal on the shelves, but at go time it does not matter when the ovens are cold and the lights are out. The USS Cole did not have harbor security in place. That was a State Dept. failure.

    My whole point was that it was a political failure thus the drones are not a solution.

    • #16
  17. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    ctlaw: What advantage do these swarm boats have over manned versions? What disadvantages do they suffer? Do they lose maneuverability due to a lack of good feedback to an operator? Do they lose flexability? Firing accuracy? Are they jammable? The Iranians claim to be very good at jamming our UAVs.

    I can easily envision these things giving great demos against simulated threats but then seeing an actual swarm of Iranian/terrorist speedboats blasting right through them.

    They are intended for deployment in congested lanes with civilian traffic, where the benefits come from forcing a potential threat to remain distant from the main USN warship.

    In open waters, where the intentions of a “swarm” of Iranian boats is not so questionable, there are other ways of dealing with them.

    Overall the advantage is in not putting US sailor’s lives at risk.

    But the applications of this “swarm” are rather limited to one scenario.

    Either way, this isn’t an entirely new development. Such systems have already been deployed in actual combat situations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protector_USV

    • #17
  18. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    AIG:

    ctlaw: What advantage do these swarm boats have over manned versions? What disadvantages do they suffer? Do they lose maneuverability due to a lack of good feedback to an operator? Do they lose flexability? Firing accuracy? Are they jammable? The Iranians claim to be very good at jamming our UAVs.

    They are intended for deployment in congested lanes with civilian traffic, where the benefits come from forcing a potential threat to remain distant from the main USN warship.

    In open waters, where the intentions of a “swarm” of Iranian boats is not so questionable, there are other ways of dealing with them.

    Overall the advantage is in not putting US sailor’s lives at risk.

    But the applications of this “swarm” are rather limited to one scenario.

    Either way, this isn’t an entirely new development. Such systems have already been deployed in actual combat situations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protector_USV

    Unless the speed, reaction time, maneuverability, and accuracy exceeds manned boats, you are putting more lives at more risk than by using manned boats.

    The prior failures like Cole have not been technological, but political. The cure is political.

    • #18
  19. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    The Navy has been using drones since at least when John Kerry reported for duty.

    • #19
  20. Foxman Inactive
    Foxman
    @Foxman

    Nick Stuart:The Navy has been using drones since at least when John Kerry reported for duty.

    The boats today are under INTELLIGENT control.

    • #20
  21. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    So here’s a question…. why do these things need steering wheels and levers? And why does the boat have to pull its own lever?

    • #21
  22. user_537146 Inactive
    user_537146
    @PatrickLasswell

    Casey:So here’s a question…. why do these things need steering and levers? And why does the boat have to pull its own lever?

    Because when they aren’t being used as drones, they are still utility craft. Leaving out the controls implies a degree of faith in technology no rational, let alone prudent, mariner has. Also, EVERYTHING breaks on boats. Do you want to be the one with the stupid look on their face explaining that it all went to hell because you decided that redundant controls were not needed.

    The ocean punishes those who respect it less.

    • #22
  23. gts109 Member
    gts109
    @gts109

    Casey, they need levers and such because they are retrofitting regular boats. It’d be a lot more expensive to manufacture, from scratch, a real robot boat that had no human interfaces. That’s what Google, etc. have all done too when designing and testing autonomous cars. At some point, there will probably be cars with no steering wheels, brake pedals, etc., but not for a while probably.

    • #23

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