The U.S. Navy plans to buy ten new warships over the next five years that won’t carry any sailors.
These drone ships are designed to carry sensors and weapons. Measuring up to 300 feet long and displacing 2,000 tons, the vessels are meant to extend the sensor range of fleets at sea. The ships will also likely carry weapons, giving the fleet greater firepower and asset commanders won’t hesitate to send on the most dangerous missions since that won’t mean endangering the lives of sailors.
According to USNI News, the Navy has budgeted $400 million to purchase two large unmanned surface vessels. The corvette-sized vessels, from 200 to 300 feet long, will operate autonomously at sea without a single human onboard. The U.S. Navy’s budget director describes the ships as the service’s “Ghost Fleet.” The U.S. Navy doesn’t actually have any corvette-sized ships right now, but according to USNI News, early vessels might be based on offshore support vessels such as the ship above, which was delivered to the Iraqi Navy in 2012.
The “Ghost Fleet” will carry a variety of sensors to extend the Navy’s vision. The proliferation of supersonic anti-ship missiles, hypersonic missiles, and other fast-moving threats to U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and large amphibious ships makes it paramount to detect threats from as far away as possible. But the curvature of the Earth dramatically lowers the distance at which low-flying missiles and aircraft can be detected by the ring of cruisers and destroyers protecting high-value targets.
So the Ghost Fleet will sail ahead of the task force, sensors at full power, seeking any inbound threats. Once the drone ships detect a threat, they can hand them off to escorts armed with SM-6 surface-to-air missiles. SM-6 has a range in excess of 100 miles, farther than a destroyer or cruiser actually detect a low-flying sea-skimming missile. In that way, Ghost Fleet ships could dramatically increase anti-air protection for carrier battle groups.
The Ghost Fleet will eventually carry vertical launching silos for missiles. Silos such as the U.S. Navy’s Mk. 41 and Mk. 57 can carry everything from SM-2 and SM-6 air defense missiles to the new Long Range Anti-Ship Missile and Naval Strike Missile, to anti-submarine weapons. A Ghost Fleet ship will be a floating, unmanned reservoir of firepower, augmenting the firepower of manned warships at sea.
Ghost Fleet builds on the success of the Navy’s Sea Hunter program, an unmanned ship that recently traveled from the West Coast of the United States to Hawaii. Sea Hunter was 132 feet long and 140 tons, so the new large unmanned surface vessels are a major step up. The Navy compares the Ghost Fleet Effort to its effort to get unmanned aerial vehicles operating off the flight decks of U.S. Navy carriers. The Navy flew the X-47B UAV off the USS Bush in 2013, and now plans to field at least eight MQ-25 Stingray aerial refueling drones by 2024.
Read more at USNI News