March 5, 2021

INDIAN AEROSPACE DEFENCE NEWS

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Changing the nature of naval missions with ‘Swarming Boats’

2 min read
Technological developments associated with swarming have the ability to transform naval operations, which have been traditionally centred on strategic assets like aircraft carriers. Swarming will allow navies to disperse their smaller tactical assets and perform the same security missions as a large conventional vessel, as long as these assets perform their assigned task in unison.

In Picture: 56 small unmanned boats operating in the South China Sea.

Swarming essentially involves a group of drones (vehicles) that act autonomously within themselves, but as a whole are remotely operated. They are tailored to execute an overall objective, but each unit has individual autonomy in relation to one another. Software development allows these individual drones to execute mini-tasks within a larger mission by themselves, while being seamlessly connected.

The US Navy has invested in a research programme to develop such capabilities. The programme titled, “Low Cost Unmanned aerial vehicle Swarming Technology” (LOCUST), will allow its operators to control the behaviour of the swarm, while preserving individual drone autonomy.

The US Office of Naval Research (ONR) even held a robot swarm demonstration, where four drone boats patrolled an area while maintaining their formation automatically, with human control only over the swarm’s larger movements.

Read at IADN: The Threat from “Swarm of Drones” by Shantanu K. Bansal

A Chinese technology company – Yunzhou Intelligence Technology (Yunzhou Tech) performed a similar demonstration in the Wanshan Archipelago with 56 autonomous USVs by equipping them with specially developed ‘autonomy modules’.

Such missions can be termed “on the loop”, relating back to the idea of machines having autonomy to execute functions under human supervision, but without continuous remote control.

Technological developments associated with swarming have the ability to transform naval operations, which have been traditionally centred on strategic assets like aircraft carriers. Swarming will allow navies to disperse their smaller tactical assets and perform the same security missions as a large conventional vessel, as long as these assets perform their assigned task in unison.

Besides investing in ‘Swarming’ applications. China is also planning to provide its nuclear submarines with an AI-based decision-support system, one that would lessen the burden of its submarine commanders. The deep learning algorithms of such support systems can correlate with other sensors and help commanding officers, “estimate the risks and benefits of certain combat maneuvers, even suggesting moves not considered by the vessel’s captain.” Sub-surface naval commanders are often engaged in dull operations that require patience, skill and navigational expertise, and above all, the ability to react to sudden changes in situations. These systems can reduce their fatigue and greatly boost their operational proficiency.

Tuneer mukherjee, former Junior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation’s (ORF’s) Maritime Policy Initiative.

Source: A paper published by the Observers Research Foundation (ORF) with the title: “Securing the Maritime Commons: The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Naval Operations”.

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