The conversation on military drones is particularly focused on air/ground tech, yet the recent developments in the Pacific have put the searchlights on the Ghost Fleet of the U.S. Navy’s unmanned vessels. This will have a possibly significant impact on Japanese and American naval operations, as well as regional rivalries between the Chinese and American allies.
The Ghost Fleet is an ongoing US Navy assignment that aims at enabling unmanned vessels to semi-autonomously and autonomously carry out multi-vessel missions. Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs) under development range from small solar-operated surveillance platforms to Medium-class vessels that are capable of firing torpedoes.
27 SEP, JS KUMANO🇯🇵 conducted a bilateral exercise with @USNavy🇺🇸. This is the first time we have exercise with USV. The #JMSDF continue to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance capabilities for deterrence and effective response.🇯🇵🤝🇺🇸#JapanUSAlliancehttps://t.co/tKusuP7IdV pic.twitter.com/dEEO9U90Oe
— Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (@jmsdf_pao_eng) September 29, 2023
The Navy further desires to acquire a fleet of larger vessels, known as the Large Unmanned Surface Vessels (better known as the LUSVs), which are between 200 and 300 feet in length with a full load displacement of up to 1000–2000 tons. This would help make the vessels roughly the size of a corvette bigger than a patrol boat but significantly smaller when compared to a frigate. LUSVs would be enabled with the vertical launch system (abbreviated VLS) with 16–32 missile tubes.
The two LUSVs at the moment operated by the Unmanned Surface Vessel Division ONE (abbreviated USVDIV-1), Ranger and Mariner, reached to take part in Fleet Activities Yokosuka on 18 September. These LUSVs, along with other medium-class USVs (MUSVs) dubbed the Sea Hunter and the Sea Hawk, are currently operating from Japan for the first time ever as part of a nautical roadshow.
The activity, Integrated Battle Problem (popular as IPB) 23.3, is primarily focused on testing manned and unmanned cooperation. The Navy explains that the joint activity with allies is going to test and build new capabilities that will facilitate regional security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
The test is a projection of power; China has been ramping up unmanned vessel development, too. This is not surprising. China has been creative when it comes to securing its area of influence in the South China Sea, including the development of new islands, setting up floating barriers, and grey zone missions by law enforcement and the Maritime Militia.
References: Eurasian Times, Warrior Maven
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