from the judgement-day dept.
Jeremy Hsu reports that the US Navy has been testing a large-scale swarm of autonomous boats designed to overwhelm enemies. In the test, a large ship that the Navy sometimes calls a high-value unit, HVU, is making its way down the river’s thalweg, escorted by 13 small guard boats. Between them, they carry a variety of payloads, loud speakers and flashing lights, a .50-caliber machine gun and a microwave direct energy weapon or heat ray. Detecting the enemy vessel with radar and infrared sensors, they perform a series of maneuvers to encircle the craft, coming close enough to the boat to engage it and near enough to one another to seal off any potential escape or access to the ship they are guarding. They blast warnings via loudspeaker and flash their lights. The HVU is now free to safely move away. Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), points out that a maneuver that required 40 people had just dropped down to just one. “Think about it as replicating the functions that a human boat pilot would do. We’ve taken that capability and extended it to multiple [unmanned surface vehicles] operating together… within that, we’ve designed team behaviors,” says Robert Brizzolara. The timing of the briefing happens to coincide with the 14-year anniversary of the bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen that killed 17 sailors. It’s an anniversary that Klunder observes with a unique sense of responsibility. “If we had this capability there on that day. We could have saved that ship. I never want to see the USS Cole happen again.”