The United States Navy is currently conducting live field tests of a new sail-powered autonomous drone known simply as Saildrone. Equipped with an on-board solar array to power its electronics, this unique, wind-powered vehicle made by a company with the same name, carries no fuel, and is designed to work without operator interference for weeks at a time.
BACKGROUND: DRONES CHANGING FACE OF WARFARE
Drones are increasingly becoming part of the 21st century defense landscape. In reaction, the U.S. military has increased anti-drone efforts. The Debrief recently reported on the successful test firing of a ship board laser that was able to destroy an incoming “surface” drone. Unlike the more common aerial drones that fly, surface drones are unmanned vehicles that travel on the surface of water or land.
Now, according to a recent press release from the U.S. Navy Central Command (NAVCENT), “After establishing Task Force 59 in September, NAVCENT is in the early stages of integrating unmanned systems and artificial intelligence into the U.S. 5th Fleet operational environment.”
In this case, that means testing unmanned, wind powered surface drones that operate autonomously in the ocean.
ANALYSIS: SAILDRONE OFFERS UNPRECEDENTED LONGEVITY & INDEPENDENCE
“U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) began operationally testing a new unmanned surface vessel (USV) in the Gulf of Aqaba, Dec. 12,” the same press release explains, “as part of an initiative to integrate new unmanned systems and artificial intelligence into U.S. 5th Fleet operations.”
Specifically, they are testing a 23-foot-long, 16-foot-tall unmanned sail craft known as the Saildrone Explorer. Designed by a company with the same name to traverse the ocean’s surface using only the power of wind, the Saildrone also uses solar power to drive the onboard electronic sensor package. As a result, the unique looking vehicle can operate “hands-off,” meaning without human intervention, for days or even weeks at a time without the need for conventional fuels.
“These are exciting times for Task Force 59 as we team with the Royal Jordanian Navy to establish our hub for Red Sea operations in Aqaba and deploy some of our new maritime robotics,” said Capt. Michael Brasseur, commander of NAVCENT’s new task force for unmanned systems and artificial intelligence in the same release. “Our Saildrones leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to enhance maritime domain awareness, extending the digital horizon with a sustainable, zero-carbon solution.”
OUTLOOK: DISCOVERY AND INNOVATION KEY TO NAVY APPROACH
According to the Navy’s release this new project is already bearing fruit, and is also representative of an overall approach by the American military force to navigate the ever changing modern-day battlefield.
“Ongoing evaluations of new unmanned systems in U.S. 5th Fleet help drive discovery, innovation and fleet integration,” the release concludes. “The U.S. Navy is learning important lessons that will inform future operational employment.”
Follow and connect with author Christopher Plain on Twitter: @plain_fiction