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US Navy wants to build unmanned subs that can hunt down enemies

Virginia-class submarines (U.S. Department of Defense/Released)
March 16, 2020

The U.S. Navy has plans to develop an autonomous submarine capable of hunting down enemies without human control.

As part of the 2021 fiscal year budget request sent to Congress in February, the Navy is requesting $26.456 million to “develop an autonomous unmanned undersea weapon system” capable of engaging in combat. The vessel, called the CLAWS Innovative Naval Prototype (INP), was part of a 2018 contract, and the $26.456 million would go towards continuing its development. The budget request also calls for an additional $23.445 million for the 2022 fiscal year, bringing the total cost request to $49.901 million.

“CLAWS will demonstrate autonomous missions in denied waters, develop and demonstrate autonomous technologies for survivability of large UUVs, and develop autonomy and launch capabilities for special mission payloads,” the request document adds.

The program would equip the autonomous submarines with sensors and artificial intelligence to evade enemy anti-submarine weapon systems, giving them the capability to carry out missions on their own. According to the Navy’s request, the plans to develop the autonomous submarines “are disruptive in nature, as they would dramatically change the way naval forces fight.”

The CLAWS INP was first announced in a Navy research contract in 2018. According to the announcement, “The goals of this effort will be focused on vehicle autonomy for awareness, decision making, and validation of the autonomous behaviors. … The creation of these technologies and UNCLASSIFIED 2 behaviors will fill critical warfighting gaps at both the strategic and tactical levels.”

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The Navy is beginning to phase out some of its nuclear-powered manned submarines as their cores wear out. In December 2016, the Navy purchased four Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles, or XLUUVs, from Boeing for $43 million aimed at replacing older vessels once their cores wear out.

With that, the Navy has plans to modernize its fleet with the creation and development of unmanned vessels in all areas of warfare, including subsurface, surface, and aircraft, some of which are also planned on being autonomous.

The Navy recently released a video demonstrating its first unmanned surface vessel in action.

The video, which was shot during Exercise Citadel Shield-Solid Curtain 2020, shows the Common Unmanned Surface Vessel (CUSV) performing a force protection scenario at Naval Station Norfolk on February 12.

Similar to the CLAWS system, the CUSV would be used in anti-terrorism force protection to help protect ports, harbors, and high-value assets, according to John Allison, who’s apart of the NAVSEA Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division.

He explained the CUSV is equipped with a hailer and a non-lethal weapon package, adding that it’s backed up by lethal weapons in case subjects don’t turn away when commanded to do so.