The U.S. Navy is delivering its first squadron of autonomous drone boat prototypes to its surface force while simultaneously acquiring two more for testing and experimentation. Indeed, the U.S. navy intends to refine the service’s ability to operate drones in coordination with one another, while not needing human intervention.
Under rapid development now for many years with the Office of Naval Research and the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, the groups, or even swarms, of interconnected, yet autonomous, drones are now hitting new breakthroughs. Those breakthroughs involve the application of AI-enabled computer algorithms designed to find enemy threats, consolidate and organize an ever widening sphere of otherwise disparate pools of combat sensor data.
The effort, called Ghost Fleet Overlord, seeks to add unprecedented value to maritime warfare by performing tasks historically reserved for manned ship crews, therefore reducing risk to sailors and massively expediting the transmission and analysis of real-time combat sensor data.
“The SCO will transition its two Ghost Fleet Overlord prototypes to the Surface Development Squadron One by the end of fiscal year 2021. The Navy is currently acquiring two more Ghost Fleet Overlord prototypes to accompany the two SCO built to continue unmanned systems testing and fleet experimentation,” a Pentagon report states.
The Ghost Fleet program, the DoD report explained, is now in what’s called Phase II of the Ghost Fleet program, described as an effort focusing on “the integration of government furnished command and control systems and playloads,” the Pentagon essay explains.
An interesting point of emphasis, described in the Pentagon essay, is that the Navy is increasingly drawing upon commercial “ocean-going” vessels to help engineer and deliver Ghost Fleet. There are several advantages to this, the first of many perhaps being the possibility that commercial technology can of course be rapidly configured, adjusted or militarized, given how unit Commanding Generals tend to follow these kinds of developments as much as possible.
One key reason for an expanded migration or, perhaps more accurately, expansion of commercial ships into Ghost Fleet, may simply pertain to a massive ongoing effort to acquire large numbers of unmanned surface vehicles. Navy expeditionary warfare leaders have, for many years now, been consistently calling upon the service to engineer very large numbers of smaller or somewhat small high-tech surface and undersea drones increasingly able to detect threats and pass operationally relevant data to surface ships performing command and control as well. One key concept now gaining traction pertains to amphibious assault. For instance, large, big-deck amphibious assault ships could operate as command and control, mothership platforms for large numbers of drone boats.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.