The Navy’s New Artificially Intelligent Drones Are Here

photo by U.S. Navy Page via Flickr 

The future of naval combat will likely be defined by the use of drones both in the air and on the water.

For militaries, predator drones aren’t the only option anymore, especially for the U.S. Navy. There are now a diverse and powerful repertoire of drones at the Navy’s disposal. With capabilities ranging from from defending, to attacking, and even engaging in important reconnaissance missions.

Below are a few of the most cutting edge naval  drones in and out of water, some being developed and others currently implemented by the U.S. Navy.


Submarine drones

This class of underwater drones which the Navy has dubbed ‘gliders’ can prowl the ocean stealthily and without need for refueling.

Using the warm water of the ocean’s thermocline–an area of warm water just underneath the surface–the unmanned submarine is able to harvest enough energy to power the vessel.

So far, such drones are used mainly for reconnaissance purposes (i.e. assessing water clarity, salinity, and topography) and are capable of transmitting important data back to its operators.

Though none have been implemented yet, offensive unmanned submarines capable of launching attacks are also likely on their way.

Unmanned swarm boats

Fleets of drone boats have already been developed by the U.S. Navy. In addition to operating without humans at the wheel, they are also almost completely autonomous.

Using onboard sensors and a software program called CARACaS, a lone sailor is able to direct a fleet of ships (13 were tested in an open water demonstration) into different defensive or offensive situations where they will then act using artificial intelligence.

Currently autonomous weapons like this are the subject of an ethical and logistical debate.

Below is a video of their demonstration:

Aerial mine hunters

By equipping a quad copter with a sensitive metal detector the Navy has repurposed such drones as unmanned and easily deployed mine sweepers.

By pre-designating an area of reconnaissance the sweepers are able to survey large swaths of sea and then transmit the data gleaned back to the operator.

Though the sweepers are still in early development stages, the Navy has already expressed great interest in a wholesale implementation, according to Defense News.

Submarine launched UAV

An entirely electric and fuel-cell powered UAV capable of launching vertically from a submarine was successfully deployed in late 2013.

According to the Naval Research Laboratory the Experimental Fuel Cell (XFC), UAV was successfully deployed out of a submarine and into a several hour-long mission where the craft was used to carry out video surveillance.

The use of these easily deployed drones has major implications on the ease with which special operations units can conduct surveillance by air.

The takeaway

If the Air Force is any indication, naval drone technology could be transformational. While the future of naval drone technology is still uncertain, the widespread implementation may be all but imminent.

According to popular science, in 2013 8.5 percent of pilots operated their craft remotely.

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James Pero