Are you Ready for Drone Submarines?

For more than two years the Office of Naval Research has been working on developing the next generation of autonomous robotic submarines, and the fruit of their efforts is the Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV).

Underwater robots have the potential to change how new systems are acquired in the US Department of Defense.

The robot subs will be able to stay underwater for at least 70 days at a time, and will be launched from a surface ship or directly from a pier. They’re getting fitted to carry out a variety of tasks, including so-called ISR — intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

The US Navy’s submarine fleet can get spread pretty thin. That’s why there’s an interest in boosting coverage by adding robot submarines that can work for months at a time. Today, smaller battery-powered unmanned mini-subs can only stay out at sea for a few hours or days, and are incapable of executing multi-month missions independently. The limiting factor for submarine long-duration missions is battery life, so if the Navy can figure out how to better power these autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), it opens up many opportunities for new missions.

It has been more than a decade since airborne drones first took flight over battlefields; the world’s biggest defense manufacturers are eyeing this new market below the ocean’s surface.

The Navy recently opened up a competition for unmanned submarines that can navigate autonomously. Chicago-based Boeing has taken an early lead in the fledgling market: The Company developed a 51-foot-long vessel called the Echo Voyager to compete for the contract, and last year it bought a company called Liquid Robotics that focuses on smaller unmanned subs.

Bethesda-based competitor Lockheed Martin is also competing for the contract and is now ramping up its efforts by investing in another company specializing in the autonomous watercraft.

The Air Force is working on robotic drones that would fly alongside fighter jets, scout ahead and absorb enemy fire. The Army is experimenting with small-scale reconnaissance robots. Even U.S. law enforcement officers are buying in: Last year Dallas police used a robot outfitted with C-4 explosives to remotely kill a gunman who had killed five police officers.

When Dallas police used a robot to kill did it enter a new era of policing and what does that mean for the future of police robots?

Some worry that involving robots in military operations could imperil human lives and inflame conflict.

Some fear that once deployed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at time scales faster than humans can comprehend. They worry that drones can become weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in unexpected ways.

Lockheed and Boeing argue the robotic subs could one day become the Navy’s robotic scouts, augmenting the efforts of the Navy’s limited and aging fleet of manned submarines.

For now, the small subs are being pitched mainly as a surveillance tool. Officials at Lockheed Martin say Ocean Aero’s subs are most likely to be used to map maritime threats, similar to how U.S. military and intelligence agencies already use satellites and aerial drones to collect information from above.

But more dangerous missions could soon follow for the Navy’s robots.  The Navy has actively tested unmanned underwater drones’ ability to find and disable mines, hoping they will one day protect aircraft carriers in hostile territory. It’s not out of the question that the robotic subs could be used to actively attack enemy submarines.

The Secretary of the Navy told President Trump a previous President said to speak softly and carry a big stick.  He said the USS Gerald R. Ford Aircraft Carrier was the President’s new big stick.

I don’t know where we’re going with all these drones but if we live by the drone we may died by the drone?  The leading state sponsor of terrorism can use the great gift from President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to make a lot of powerful weapons.  It was $140 billion in unmarked currency was it not?

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