As the neon haze from high-rise cities reflects off desolate ocean sprawls, the U.S. Navy ventures forth into the dystopian realm of unmanned ships driven by artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. Keeping a watchful eye on the waters encircling Central and South America, their goal is to stifle secretive smuggling operations and China’s illicit fishing activities. Task Force 59, a drone initiative set forth in the stark folds of 2021, watches over parts of the Middle East and several vulnerable maritime chokepoints, acting as a countermeasure against piracy and smuggling.
Although the world is forever morphing into an uncertain future, the U.S. Navy is committed to adapting, evolving, and strengthening its presence across the globe. Earlier this month, they announced their intent to deploy unmanned vessels within the 4th Fleet, an area covering the vast expanses off Central and South America’s coasts, reaching as far south as the cold, windswept shores of Antarctica.
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro proclaimed during a Navy League luncheon that the 4th Fleet’s operational environment is perfect for implementing Task Force 59’s meticulously fine-tuned strategies, all aimed at enhancing maritime domain awareness (MDA) capabilities. Unleashing these innovative MDA technologies and platforms will address numerous problems, targeting the criminal underworld of narcotics and human trafficking, as well as the economic and environmental devastation caused by illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
The haunting specter of the People’s Republic of China looms large, as distant water fishing fleets from the nation cast their shadowy nets over both the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts of Central and South America. However, hope springs eternal amidst the neon-tinged darkness, for the Navy envisions a future dominated by AI-controlled unmanned vessels. By 2045, estimates note that there may be between 89 and 149 mechanical leviathans skimming the waves, supported by 323 to 365 manned counterparts.
These unmanned drones utilize AI and machine learning to absorb vast quantities of data, allowing the Navy to sustain surveillance across key waters for extended periods of time. Glimmering machines take on responsibilities once bore by the vanguard of men and women in uniform, freeing up personnel to tackle crucial tasks from new angles.
Speaking at the same event as Del Toro, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday postulated that unmanned vessels could serve as unrelenting, unblinking eyes over traffickers en route to U.S. waters. Additionally, these insect-like machines would help uncover China’s sinister designs and veil of gray zone activities.
With the integration of AI and other advanced technologies, the Navy is poised to process and react to the influx of information more effectively than ever before. Gilday envisions a world where machine learning and artificial intelligence work in concert, accelerating the discovery and interception of illegal activities. Boundless potential lies within the synapses-like connections these technologies can offer.
The Navy harbors an acute awareness of AI’s capabilities, holding deep respect for this burgeoning force. As an example of their trust, it has been noted that AI-controlled large surface unmanned vessels have traversed over 50,000 nautical miles autonomously, gracefully adhering to the laws of the seas while avoiding obstacles and staying on course.
Confidence in AI’s aptitude continues to swell after successful transits from the U.S. Gulf Coast through the Panama Canal and the port of Hueneme in California, a testament to the unwavering competence of these virtual mariners. With the advancement of technology, AI drives the future towards a new horizon.
Still, the implementation of these cold, mechanical creations must be executed delicately, for the balance between man and machine is fragile. Recognizing this, Gilday emphasized that the Navy will prioritize a minimally-manned approach until fully-autonomous solutions can be deemed wholeheartedly reliable.
Recently, the Navy etched a historic accomplishment into the virtual pages of their storied history: a drone cruised through the Strait of Hormuz, an area plagued with the constant hum of strife. This narrow passage marks the gateway between the Persian Gulf, Iran, and Oman, providing entry and exit points for approximately one-fifth of the world’s oil trade.
The drone ship, a 41-foot speedboat adorned with a multitude of sensors and cameras, was christened the L3 Harris Arabian Fox MAST-13. Traveling at its helm were two U.S. Coast Guard cutters, navigating together in a dance between metal and might. This convoy endured the watchful gaze of Iranian forces as they traversed the vital waterway, undeterred by the potential dangers that lay hidden in the murky depths.
The escort’s presence served as a cautionary warning, for just last year an Iranian naval vessel illegally commandeered two unmanned drones in international waters. The Saildrone Explorers, fitted with cameras, sensors, and radars to gather critical data, were steered off course and into the waiting grasp of nefarious hands before eventually being released.
As the borders between technology and humanity blur and meld together in this rapidly evolving world, it’s vital that the Navy continues to adapt, innovate, and future-proof its response to the ever-changing threats that lurk beneath the waves. Breaching the limits of technology and imagination, the promise of AI-driven vessels and machines offers a tantalizing glimpse into the resolute determination of a powerful, steadfast maritime force.
With the dark beauty of dystopian cyberpunk worlds playing at the edges of our reality, the U.S. Navy forges ahead, determined to unlock the possibilities of AI technology and harness the power of the machine. Ensuring safety and tranquility across our troubled seas, they will continue to sail into an uncertain future with unwavering vigilance.