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US Navy developing aquatic drones to meet China's 'pacing challenge' but wary of 'unproven technology'

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The United States has begun work on developing new types of weapons to keep pace with China’s military development and to continue to deter potential aggression against Taiwan.

U.S. military officials have repeatedly emphasized that they see China as a major “pacing challenge” for development and engagement.

One way the Navy has identified surface drones as an affordable and effective means of delaying that challenge: The Navy’s Fifth Fleet has already deployed small drones of this nature in waters off the Middle East.

Four of the largest drones in service today will participate in multinational naval exercises in the Pacific this summer.

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Drones will allow the Navy to maintain fleet size relative to China’s home fleet while striking three objectives: weapons range, reconnaissance, and command and control. The technology also avoids costly mistakes made with conventional ships in recent years.

This image provided by the U.S. Navy shows the Sail Drone Explorer, Devil Ray T-38 unmanned vessel, Coast Combat Vessel and U.S. Coast Guard Cutter head-on in the Arabian Gulf on June 26, 2022.

This image provided by the U.S. Navy shows the Sail Drone Explorer, Devil Ray T-38 unmanned vessel, Coast Combat Vessel and U.S. Coast Guard Cutter head-on in the Arabian Gulf on June 26, 2022.
(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communications Specialist Roland A. Franklin via AP)

Several warships found propulsion problems after deployment, leading to early retirement. Ammunition for the Stealth Destroyer’s “Advanced Gun System” proved too costly to maintain. The new carrier showed problems with its launch system.

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Critics say the Navy has rushed to add too much new technology to the ships, but Cmdr. said it was a problem.

In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, an unmanned Sea Hunter vessel arrives at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise on June 29, 2022.

In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, an unmanned Sea Hunter vessel arrives at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to participate in the Rim of the Pacific exercise on June 29, 2022.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Aiko Bongolan via AP)

The Navy’s new fiscal year budget includes $433 million for “unmanned surface ships.”

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But Rep. Elaine Luria, a retired Navy officer, D-Va., has urged caution against “throwing all resources into (robot ships)” after years of ship program failures. . .

Members of the Chinese Navy stand on the deck of the escort task force guided-missile destroyer Suzhou (Hull 132) at the military port of Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, China, 18 May 2022.

Members of the Chinese Navy stand on the deck of the escort task force guided-missile destroyer Suzhou (Hull 132) at the military port of Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, China, 18 May 2022.
(VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

The greatest advantage that drones offer is the ability to deploy weapons for extended periods of time without the risk and manpower costs involved. Sail Drones are sail-powered, solar-powered vessels that can allegedly be deployed for months at a time without needing to be. replenish.

Luria claims the technology isn’t “mature enough” to make “wholesale investments,” but Hawaii Democratic Sen. “I’m conscious of things I’m not conscious of,” he said. Unproven technology moving too fast.”

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“The Navy needs to get this right the first time and support rigorous testing with prototypes before committing to purchase a fleet,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.