Drones of the Sea: DARPA Unveils Sea Hunter

 

Sea HunterFacing threats from a new wave of potentially hostile submarines, DARPA has launched a self-driving sub detector prototype named Sea Hunter. The 130-foot twin-screw trimaran was designed to be stable in all types of weather and can sail for thousands of miles and for months at a time. The unarmed prototype has a small cabin for a human to operate the vessel if needed, but the final version will not house any crew.

“This is an inflection point,” Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Work said in an interview, adding he hoped such ships might find a place in the western Pacific in as few as five years. “This is the first time we’ve ever had a totally robotic, trans-oceanic-capable ship.”

It also comes as China’s naval investments, including in its expanding submarine fleet, stoke concern in Washington about the vulnerability of the aircraft carrier battle groups and submarines that remain critical to America’s military superiority in the western Pacific.

“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,” said author Peter Singer, an expert on robotic warfare at the New America Foundation think tank…

“I would like to see unmanned flotillas operating in the western Pacific and the Persian Gulf within five years,” [Work] said, comparing the prototype ship to early drone aircraft.

The ship’s projected $20 million price tag and its $15,000 to $20,000 daily operating cost make it relatively inexpensive for the U.S. military.

As the US military focused on counter-insurgency and extended deployments in the Middle East, it has let its essential anti-submarine warfare (ASW) skills and technology atrophy. China, Russia, and Iran continue to build up their undersea warfare capabilities, while the US Navy cut its submarine force by 30 percent.

China is deploying ultra-quiet diesel-powered subs which can gain disturbingly easy access to US carrier groups, and Iran has focused on small, shallow-water subs. These pose a far different threat from the USSR’s nuclear, blue-water leviathans that American ASW strategy was created to challenge.

Hopefully, the Sea Hunter is just the first adjustment in US naval strategy which will protect our interests well into the future.

 

There are 28 comments.

  1. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    This never would have happened if there was no minimum wage.

    ;-)

    • #1
    • April 8, 2016, at 5:35 PM PDT
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  2. Kevin Creighton Contributor

    That’s not a Sea Hunter.

    THIS is a sea hunter!

    hqdefault

    • #2
    • April 8, 2016, at 5:42 PM PDT
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  3. BrentB67 Inactive

    How will the Navy fit the important stuff in like sexual harassment training and equal opportunity training if there is no crew. This is clearly a ruse to put valuable bureaucrats out of work.

    • #3
    • April 8, 2016, at 6:08 PM PDT
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  4. Manfred Arcane Inactive

    My company did some of the initial analysis that went into the decision process for deciding whether to go forward with this or not. I remember an esteemed colleague involved in simulating the ship in action prior to bending any metal coming to me about a technical point. My first and second reactions to hearing the concept was that it was doomed to fail. Heh, heh. See, some times I have an awkward moment now and then just to see how it feels like. Heh, heh.

    • #4
    • April 8, 2016, at 7:18 PM PDT
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  5. Dustoff Inactive

    Humm. Reminds me of Hawaii Five O.

    • #5
    • April 8, 2016, at 8:06 PM PDT
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  6. wilber forge Member

    Considering the Navy’s “New Green Policy”, just what is the carbón footprint of just one of these, then just how many more Blue Sky notions are needed ? With all due respect, this is quite a push.

    DARPA also came up with a number of Less Than Lethal Weapons ítems that were stunning and remain mostly unused. But that’s another story.

    • #6
    • April 8, 2016, at 9:43 PM PDT
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  7. OldDanRhody Member

    Dustoff:Humm. Reminds me of Hawaii Five O.

    I think it may have been seeing my motor yacht in the background that triggered that association.

    • #7
    • April 8, 2016, at 10:40 PM PDT
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  8. Dustoff Inactive

    OldDan

    Yep, that could be it.

    • #8
    • April 8, 2016, at 11:06 PM PDT
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  9. Larry3435 Member

    I believe that if we find ourselves in a military fight, the objective is to win fast and win hard, with minimal loss of American lives. I believe it absolutely. And yet, there is still something that bothers me about taking the human beings out of war. Unmanned drones and sub-hunters. Eventually, robot infantry. I see the benefits. But it is still a little creepy. Even without Skynet, it’s a little creepy.

    • #9
    • April 9, 2016, at 4:17 AM PDT
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  10. Judge Mental Member

    Larry3435:I believe that if we find ourselves in a military fight, the objective is to win fast and win hard, with minimal loss of American lives. I believe it absolutely. And yet, there is still something that bothers me about taking the human beings out of war. Unmanned drones and sub-hunters. Eventually, robot infantry. I see the benefits. But it is still a little creepy. Even without Skynet, it’s a little creepy.

    I worry about the same thing from this angle. We replace all of our troop actions with drones, and then the drones are subverted or just bricked, leaving us completely unready to fight ourselves.

    • #10
    • April 9, 2016, at 4:20 AM PDT
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  11. Larry3435 Member

    Judge Mental:

    Larry3435:I believe that if we find ourselves in a military fight, the objective is to win fast and win hard, with minimal loss of American lives. I believe it absolutely. And yet, there is still something that bothers me about taking the human beings out of war. Unmanned drones and sub-hunters. Eventually, robot infantry. I see the benefits. But it is still a little creepy. Even without Skynet, it’s a little creepy.

    I worry about the same thing from this angle. We replace all of our troop actions with drones, and then the drones are subverted or just bricked, leaving us completely unready to fight ourselves.

    Public perception is also an issue. I worry that the public has gotten used to the idea of war without casualties, and that any military action will quickly lose public support if there are even a few casualties. This attitude is only increased by the promise of robot war machines. Storming the beaches of Normandy would not be possible today, given the public’s attitude about casualties. I’m not saying that the public is always wrong about this, but the day may come when storming the beaches of Normandy becomes necessary once again. And the robots may not be up to the task. Then what?

    • #11
    • April 9, 2016, at 4:34 AM PDT
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  12. BrentB67 Inactive

    Larry3435:I believe that if we find ourselves in a military fight, the objective is to win fast and win hard, with minimal loss of American lives. I believe it absolutely. And yet, there is still something that bothers me about taking the human beings out of war. Unmanned drones and sub-hunters. Eventually, robot infantry. I see the benefits. But it is still a little creepy. Even without Skynet, it’s a little creepy.

    I don’t think we ever get completely away from humans in war. Rules of engagement are too dynamic to plug into a flow chart.

    That said I share your concerns that this is being impersonalized to the point it may become much easier to declare war.

    • #12
    • April 9, 2016, at 4:52 AM PDT
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  13. Manfred Arcane Inactive

    It’s like a surveillance drone, folks, only in the water. We can’t easily find all the super quiet diesel subs out there, this promises to do so and stay on the subs tail for as long as we need it to. It’s really a brilliant idea, whoever thought it up. Hope it works, cause it’s sure looks a lot cheaper than anything else the Navy is building.

    • #13
    • April 9, 2016, at 4:57 AM PDT
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  14. SpiritO'78 Member

    BrentB67:

    Larry3435:I believe that if we find ourselves in a military fight, the objective is to win fast and win hard, with minimal loss of American lives. I believe it absolutely. And yet, there is still something that bothers me about taking the human beings out of war. Unmanned drones and sub-hunters. Eventually, robot infantry. I see the benefits. But it is still a little creepy. Even without Skynet, it’s a little creepy.

    I don’t think we ever get completely away from humans in war. Rules of engagement are too dynamic to plug into a flow chart.

    That said I share your concerns that this is being impersonalized to the point it may become much easier to declare war.

    ‘impersonalized’ is exactly the right word. Something video gamish about it.

    • #14
    • April 9, 2016, at 9:29 AM PDT
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  15. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    BrentB67: I don’t think we ever get completely away from humans in war. Rules of engagement are too dynamic to plug into a flow chart.

    The problem of “machine morality” isn’t so much about coming up with the algorithm (i.e. the flow chart), but rather one of gathering and quantifying what humans consider moral.

    Think about the Netflix algorithm. It knows what movies you choose as well as how you rate those movies. It then compares that information to the data it’s already gathered about all the movies everybody else has watched as well as how they rated those movies. From there, it’s able to suggest movies to you that it thinks you will enjoy.

    Theoretically, an algorithm could do the same with rules of engagement. All it would need to do would be to get every single American (or, every American voter, cuz who cares what non-voters think ;-) to examine every military engagement that has ever occurred and rate them on a scale of “good killedness”. It could then use that data to predict whether a soldier should pull the trigger in any given situation.

    Of course the algorithm wouldn’t arrive at the perfect solution every time (just as Netflix’s suggestions don’t always work out), but really this is basically what (politically-minded) military planners already do, only faster. The main problem is getting the data.

    (Aside: I recommend Algorithms: The Secret Rules Of Modern Living, available on Netflix.)

    • #15
    • April 9, 2016, at 9:46 AM PDT
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  16. Marion Evans Inactive

    On seeing the Sea Hunter approach, a lot of adversaries are going to turn into Chicken of the Sea.

    • #16
    • April 9, 2016, at 5:27 PM PDT
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  17. Ray Kujawa Coolidge

    I wonder how long it will take before we can all buy our own private sea going drones at our local nautical supply store. And how much will the registration fee be. More than $5.00?

    • #17
    • April 9, 2016, at 8:11 PM PDT
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  18. Mendel Member

    Larry3435:I believe that if we find ourselves in a military fight, the objective is to win fast and win hard, with minimal loss of American lives. I believe it absolutely. And yet, there is still something that bothers me about taking the human beings out of war.

    But the ultimate weapon in our arsenal – the hardest and fastest weapon we have – has been an unmanned weapon for over half a century: the ICBM. It’s about the most remote weapon system imaginable, yet it is also by far the most important one we own. Yet we don’t obsess about ICBMs removing the human factor.

    Indeed, for me the biggest question surrounding this new drone boat remains: what does a full-on conventional war between two nuclear powers actually look like? Will we really be concerned about saving the lives of a few dozen sailors against an enemy that could potentially wipe out millions of civilians with the literal push of a button?

    • #18
    • April 10, 2016, at 12:29 PM PDT
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  19. Mendel Member

    Also, how does this boat conceptually differ from a reconnaissance satellite? Both are unmanned vehicles equipped with sensors to monitor the enemy – yet nobody ever batted an eye about satellites “removing the human factor”.

    Really, the only difference is in our own minds – we’re accustomed to thinking of boats requiring people, so an unmanned boat seems somehow weird, whereas satellites have essentially been unmanned since their invention.

    • #19
    • April 10, 2016, at 12:30 PM PDT
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  20. Douglas Inactive

    Ain’t a Navy without sailors. And it ain’t a sailor if he doesn’t go to sea.

    • #20
    • April 10, 2016, at 1:14 PM PDT
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  21. Larry3435 Member

    Mendel: Yet we don’t obsess about ICBMs removing the human factor.

    We don’t obsess about ICBM’s because we have gotten used to the idea that they will not be used. Believe me, when I was a kid people obsessed about ICBM’s a lot.

    • #21
    • April 10, 2016, at 5:47 PM PDT
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  22. Douglas Inactive

    BrentB67:

    Larry3435:I believe that if we find ourselves in a military fight, the objective is to win fast and win hard, with minimal loss of American lives. I believe it absolutely. And yet, there is still something that bothers me about taking the human beings out of war. Unmanned drones and sub-hunters. Eventually, robot infantry. I see the benefits. But it is still a little creepy. Even without Skynet, it’s a little creepy.

    I don’t think we ever get completely away from humans in war. Rules of engagement are too dynamic to plug into a flow chart.

    That said I share your concerns that this is being impersonalized to the point it may become much easier to declare war.

    Or, as has been our practice post-WWII, just going out and blowing up things without any declaration at all.

    • #22
    • April 10, 2016, at 6:24 PM PDT
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  23. Douglas Inactive

    Mendel:Also, how does this boat conceptually differ from a reconnaissance satellite? Both are unmanned vehicles equipped with sensors to monitor the enemy – yet nobody ever batted an eye about satellites “removing the human factor”.

    Satellites are not autonomous… their flight paths are programmed by men and can be changed by them mid-flight… and they’re not shooting anything at us (yet). One of the long-term goals of robotic projects like the Navy’s X-47B stealth drone is to eventually figure out the AI necessary to tell a robot plane “Go blow this up”, and it figures out the best way to do it on its own. THAT’s when we really enter SKYNET territory.

    • #23
    • April 10, 2016, at 6:30 PM PDT
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  24. Manny Member

    Unmanned vehicles and weapons, be they in the air, on the sea, under the sea, or on the ground are the wave of the future. Whether that makes it a safer or more dangerous world is yet to be determined. I can see it both ways. We do hold this technological advantage right now, but it won’t last very long.

    • #24
    • April 11, 2016, at 4:42 AM PDT
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  25. Ross C Member

    I would go with Mendel here. This is a special purpose recon satellite in a very, very-low earth orbit (an erratic orbit perhaps).

    It is fun to speculate so here I go:

    Presumably this thing reports when it gets a ping and something else (e.g. Orion P-3) comes in to investigate and maybe kill the contact.

    I would wonder about its evasion strategy. Since it presumably cannot fight another ship, it must be programmed to run from radar contacts that would capture or kill it. In that case it must be fast enough to evade. Another strategy would be to deploy it in a coastal watch where it is never far from help should it spot something deadly.

    • #25
    • April 11, 2016, at 9:51 AM PDT
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  26. Manfred Arcane Inactive

    Ross C:I would go with Mendel here. This is a special purpose recon satellite in a very, very-low earth orbit (an erratic orbit perhaps).

    It is fun to speculate so here I go:

    Presumably this thing reports when it gets a ping and something else (e.g. Orion P-3) comes in to investigate and maybe kill the contact.

    I would wonder about its evasion strategy. Since it presumably cannot fight another ship, it must be programmed to run from radar contacts that would capture or kill it. In that case it must be fast enough to evade. Another strategy would be to deploy it in a coastal watch where it is never far from help should it spot something deadly.

    But it is intended to tail a quiet (diesel) sub for days. Presumably prior to hostilities to let the bad guys know we know where their subs are and can kill them at our leisure.

    The novel issue here is that, just like our recon satellites, if the adversary needs to knock these out before going to war with any confidence of winning, and commences to do so, we have to decide what provocation threshold has been crossed before actual manned platforms actually come under attack. So, in some sense, they also serve as a tripwire.

    • #26
    • April 11, 2016, at 10:04 AM PDT
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  27. Manfred Arcane Inactive

    Ross C: I would go with Mendel here. This is a special purpose recon satellite in a very, very-low earth orbit (an erratic orbit perhaps).

    Like

    • #27
    • April 11, 2016, at 10:05 AM PDT
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  28. Mendel Member

    Larry3435:

    Mendel: Yet we don’t obsess about ICBMs removing the human factor.

    We don’t obsess about ICBM’s because we have gotten used to the idea that they will not be used. Believe me, when I was a kid people obsessed about ICBM’s a lot.

    Yes, but it’s for that reason that I’m surprised we (collectively) can still get so worked up about this or that system being “unmanned”. Didn’t we jump over that psychological hurdle back in the 60s?

    • #28
    • April 11, 2016, at 10:53 AM PDT
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