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GlobalData predicts drone warships will bolster US naval force

GlobalData predicts drone warships will bolster US naval force
A Ghost Fleet Overlord test vessel takes part in a capstone demonstration, playing a vital role in informing the Navy’s new classes of USVs. PHOTO: US Navy

GlobalData’s new report reveals how drone warships can help the US be a credible force at sea for a fraction of the cost.

GlobalData’s new report reveals how drone warships can help the US be a credible force at sea for a fraction of the cost.

Following the news that the US Navy laid out a vision where both unmanned surface vessels (USVs) and unmanned underwater vessels (UUVs) will form an integral part of future navy deployments, James Marques, associate aerospace, defence and security analyst at GlobalData, offers his view that employing drones as part of its fleet promises to be a cheaper path for the US to exceed its current goal of 335 ships.

The new ambition set by the Biden administration in the face of rising competition from China, drones will introduce more firepower to the fleet at a fraction of the cost and with minimal risk to life which is an attractive prospect to any navy, according to Marquesto.


"Contracts signed with established shipbuilding firms such as Huntington Ingalls and unmanned systems experts such as Lockheed Martin, who benefit from prior close co-operation with the navy to work on innovative weapons," Marquesto said.

"These companies are refining the platforms to meet the requirements needed for operation within carrier strike groups - which indicates the faith being placed by the US in using drones to form a core part of its power projection."

The use of autonomous systems is increasing significantly every day, with the development of computer, communication, command and control, along with AI technologies and their widespread use in the military field.

The unmanned surface vessel market alone will be worth $3 billion by 2031, according to GlobalData's report Future of Unmanned Vehicles in Defense, with the sustainment programs necessary to maintain drone fleets and their networks will create attractive contract opportunities.

USVs and UUVs have immense potential to revolutionise warfare in the long-term. Navies and companies, co-operating with universities, research and development centres, have been developing and experimenting with various USVs for many years with some of these efforts transitioning into procurement/manufacture programs. 

Drones have been adopted rapidly in many sectors, both in civil and defence fields. The unmanned technology has become a force multiplier used in many naval operations, especially intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), with their low operating cost, versatile and long-term endurance, and being able to be used safely in dangerous areas. 

Marquesto explains the naval contracts call for a gradual and phased approach to implementing new technologies and capabilities on the drone ships.

"This cautious approach stems from lessons learnt over a previous troubled procurement program for the Zumwalt-class destroyers, with the Navy calling it an 'evolutionary, rather than revolutionary' approach - and it also better prepares them to integrate a new networked warfare approach to operations at sea," he said.

"A wireless networking effort named Project Overmatch ties in closely to these new unmanned systems. It will connect unmanned systems to the crewed vessels, easing the flow of combat-relevant information that will enhance the decision making of autonomous systems. It indicates the vital role of computing power in future warfare." 

[Related: Russian and Ukrainian militias using social media and chat platforms for recruitment]

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