In a major development, the US Navy has announced that they now have a ship that can be crewless autonomously used for 30 days at sea. The prototype vessel in question is USNS Apalachicola which is 337 ft long and is the biggest self-running craft of the Navy.
This comes when the Navy is trying to build an army of drone ships and planes, which could herald a new wave in combat in the next few decades.
The vessel can go up to 40 knots speed and has a shallow-hulled design allowing it to venture into places other ships can’t reach. Apalachicola has a 12.5 ft draft and a 544 metric tons payload capacity.
It can function as a drone mothership and a crewless missile ship. It has the capability of launching anti-submarine weapons. It can be equipped with sensor craft and radar. Humans can also be present on the ship.
Apalachicola’s manufacturer Austal has revealed that the ship has a machinery control system, MCS, and an automated in-house design. This makes it capable of centralizing machinery operations at the bridge with little or no crew. It can recover rigid inflatable boats and supports V-22 Osprey flight operations.
So far, the US Navy has successfully made prototypes of crewless squadron ships. They got their first vessel prototype in 2022 from Ghost Fleet Overlord, an erstwhile drone boat evaluation program in the US. With this ship, the US hopes to enter the drone ship game.
Many private entities are also helping the Navy test autonomous sailboats, much of which would be used in reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.
References: Popular Mechanics, Austal USA
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