US Navy developing water-based drone to tackle China’s ‘pacing challenge’ but wary of ‘unproven technology’

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The US has started working on new types of weapons to keep pace with China’s military developments and deter a possible invasion of Taiwan.

US military officials have repeatedly stressed that they see China as the main “pacing challenge” to development and engagement – meaning Beijing is a competitor making significant progress toward challenging US defense strategy. Is.

There is one way the Navy has identified water-borne drones as an economical but effective means of delaying that challenge: The Navy’s 5th Fleet has already deployed small drones of this nature in the waters of the Middle East. have done.

The four largest drones currently deployed will participate in a multi-nation naval exercise in the Pacific Ocean during the summer.

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The drones will allow the Navy to maintain a fleet size comparable to China’s own growing fleet while hitting three targets: weapons range, scouting and command and control. The technology will also avoid the costly mistakes that have arisen with conventional ships in recent years.

This image, provided by the US Navy, shows a Seldron Explorer, a Devil Ray T-38 crewless ship, a Coastal Fighter and a US Coast Guard cutter in the Arabian Gulf on June 26, 2022.

This image, provided by the US Navy, shows a Seldron Explorer, a Devil Ray T-38 crewless ship, a Coastal Fighter and a US Coast Guard cutter in the Arabian Gulf on June 26, 2022.
(US Navy Photo by Chief Mass Communications Specialist Roland A. Franklin, via AP)

Post-deployment many fighter ships found that they had propulsion problems, leading to early retirement; The ammo for a stealth destroyer’s “Advanced Gun System” proved too expensive to maintain; And a new aircraft carrier showed issues with its launch system.

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A former State Department spokesman says he expects China to attack more aggressively in the coming months.

Critics say the Navy rushed to add too much new technology to its ships, but Cmdr. Jeremiah Daly told the Associated Press that it’s a matter of “advancing the technology and having faith in the potential.”

In this image provided by the US Navy, a Sea Hunter crewless vessel arrives to participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise on June 29, 2022, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

In this image provided by the US Navy, a Sea Hunter crewless vessel arrives to participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise on June 29, 2022, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
(US Navy photo via AP by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Aiko Bongolan)

The Navy’s budget for the new fiscal year includes $433 million for “crewless surface ships.”

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But retired Navy officer Rep. Ellen Luria, D-VA, after years of failed ship programs, urged caution in “throwing all resources at[robot ships]” even though the cost-saving benefits of building drones on supporter ships could be outweighed. expose.

Members of the Chinese Navy stand on the deck of the Escort Taskforce's guided missile destroyer Suzhou (Hull 132) at a military port in Zhoushan, Zhejiang Province, China, May 18, 2022.

Members of the Chinese Navy stand on the deck of the Escort Taskforce’s guided missile destroyer Suzhou (Hull 132) at a military port in Zhoushan, Zhejiang Province, China, May 18, 2022.
(VCG / VCG via Getty Images)

One of the biggest advantages that drones provide is the ability to deploy weapons for extended periods of time without the need for risk or human cost: the Seldrone, a sail-powered and solar-powered vessel, supposedly without the need for a weapon. Can be deployed for months in time to re-supply.

Luria argues that the technology is not “mature enough” to make a “bulk investment”, but Sen. Mazzi Hirono, D-Hawaii, and chairman of the Maritime Powers Subcommittee, said he had assurances that the Navy “is not aware” of the unproven technology. moving forward very quickly.”

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“The Navy should get this right the first time and support the fleet with rigorous testing with prototypes before buying them,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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