US Navy testing unmanned robot boats that launch ‘swarm’ attacks

8 Oct 2014

The US Navy is testing an autonomous fleet of boats capable of launching attacks on enemy vessels that, according to the service, will give “naval warfighters a decisive edge”.

The technology – called CARACaS (Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing) – has been developed by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and allows a number of small boats to escort larger ships unmanned and, if necessary, ‘swarm’ on enemy vessels that pose a threat. 

A video released by the Navy shows the demonstrations, which feature as many as 13 Navy boats operated using either artificial intelligence or remote control.

“Our sailors and marines can’t fight tomorrow’s battles using yesterday’s technology,” said chief of naval research Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, in a statement.

“This kind of breakthrough is the result of the Navy’s long-term support for innovative research in science and technology.”

Dr Robert Brizzolara, programme manager at ONR, added, “It will remove our sailors and marines from many dangerous situations – for instance, when they need to approach hostile or suspicious vessels. If an adversary were to fire on the USVs (unmanned surface vehicle), no humans would be at risk.”

So history may not repeat itself

As pointed out in the video, the Navy hopes the technology can help prevent instances such as the attack that occurred in 2000 on the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen, when a small boat laden with explosives was able to get near the vessel and detonate. Seventeen American sailors were killed and a further 39 injured.

It is also believed that, in future, the technology could be used in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

In March, the Navy revealed it was looking into technology that would allow a giant solar station orbiting the Earth to beam down solar energy for the military in an attempt to shed its position as one of the world’s largest petroleum-consuming organisations.

Dean Van Nguyen was a contributor to Silicon Republic