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back to article US plans crewless automated ghost-frigates

Those splendid brainboxes at DARPA - the Pentagon's in-house bazaar of the bizarre - have outdone themselves this time. They now plan an entirely uncrewed, automated ghost frigate able to cruise the oceans of the world for months or years on end without human input. The new project is called Anti-submarine warfare Continuous …

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Steal one?

How protected from Somali pirates?

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Black Helicopters

Pirates

One would assume that the pirates could not override the controls of the ship - or for that matter easily board. If one allowed that, then the ship is basically useless.

Oh - I gave away too much information! Gotta run!

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Two things puzzle me

For long endurance, a ship must be big, does this not make the ACTUV rather expensive? Even if it is cheaper than a frigate, but it is still a big target, more-or-less a sitting duck. Refueling at sea does not seem an option.

I am surprised they went for Unmanned, not Intelligent: ACTIV sounds better

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Ah, but...

Replace the galley, bunk rooms, food storage, water processing, etc. etc. with diesel tanks and you get a heck of a lot more range out of a fairly small hull, plus you could probably bin a lot of the the more bulky surface/air systems too.

Not entirely sure how plausible it is to have something chugging round the oceans for months on end without someone giving it a regular once-over, though, the marine environment is notoriously harsh on machinery. I can imagine it needing a lot of bath sealant applied before setting off.

Thinking about it, you might be better of with something rather like a surfaced sub than a conventional hull. And a bloody good insurance policy for when it inevitably causes havoc somewhere - even human captains are forever ramming their warships into islands, continents, boatloads of japanese schoolkids, etc. etc. etc.

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Ha, but...

Make it nucular!

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FAIL

Bad idea!

Now you have enriched U floating around on the sea with no one guarding it

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No Worries...

..about all those pesky neutrons and stuff since there is no crew.

Or it could harvest whales, and run on whale oil.

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Pirate

How long before..

I await the news of the first deployed unmanned vessel being stolen at sea.

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Alternatively

You could stop selling silent diesel electric boats to dodgy 3rd world dictatorships?

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Pirate

and

start selling second-hand ghost ships...

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FAIL

Ridiculous Idea

What a totally garbage idea? Speaking from experience (ex submariner / ex skimmer) if I was being tracked by a robotoy ship as soon as I left port with constant active sonar pinging on my hull - sorry, but that is neer on an act of war - you are mr. Palitoy ship dude - putting the safety of me and my crew at risk by broadvasting to the planey where my submarine is!

First thing I'd do is take it out - which I suspect every boat Captain would - and what then? An excuse to invade that minor country? Oh wait........

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You are having a laugh, right?

Exactly how many countries are going to hand over a submarine to someone stupid enough to think that torpedoing a US Navy warship is a good way of passing a dull afternoon? Particularly one that that is sending a minute-by-minute update on his position back to Norfolk, Virginia?

I think "Are you an utter moron?" and "will you get us involved in a major war without asking us for permission first?" probably feature highly on most national sub-skipper selection tests.

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@Trygve

But, is blowing up an unmanned vessel sufficient to allow the US to legally kill? Even though I suspect that the international-law-ignoring US may not like the bad publicity that could follow "Pakistani Submarine Crew killed for blowing up remote control boat" or "Somali fishermen gunned down by US for shooting unmanned boat".

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@You are having a laugh, right?

But you aren't sinking a warship and killing US sailors you are just removing an unmanned hazard to navigation. Sinking one of these would be no different from removing a minefield.

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You are not Lewis Page

You have a full stop on your name. No Vulture icon either. Go away.

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Anonymous Coward

But...

You don't have to take it out by torpedoing it. Just have a handy minefield - well marked for the benefit of civilian ships and navies alike - near your submarine base. Head out under said minefield and the unmanned thing has to either lose you or go through the minefield.

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FAIL

Easy-peasy

Exit harbor, pick up tail, surface, yell through a bullhorn "Get out of our waters!", wait 2 minutes, blow up. Anything violating the borders of a sovereign nation without the permission of said nation is fair game, especially if it's unmanned.

Besides it would be a great propaganda coup. Any nation likely to attract the attention of such a vessel is not going to be overwhelmingly friendly in the first place. Offing a robot from The Great Satan is probably not going to earn the captain any demerits.

As for picking up the sub outside national waters - forget it. *That* takes a manned vessel unless the way there is extremely restricted. I can't think of any nations likely to be targets of Mary Celeste to have such restricted access to the high seas. Even Iran has a nice long coastline to the Indian Ocean, making any automated shadowing a losing proposition.

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Re: Easy-peasy

My thoughts exactly:

To get rid of one of those buggers, the sub has to go where the X-ship can´t.

Chinese teritorial water came to my mind. Or an ice shelf.

Though both are not natural habitats for foreign diesel subs.

Maybe they should just tell greenpeace about all the whale-killing active sonar.

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Welcome

I for one...

welcome our robotic overlordships!

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Global warming

Who's going to win hide-and-seek under the Arctic ice cap?

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FAIL

hide-and-seek under the Arctic ice cap

With a Diesel electric sub????

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One word...

... mines.

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Pirate

International Stalking Laws?

I guess stalking people on the high seas must be ok? Your basic sub driver can't exactly call the international police whinging at all the pinging! Personally, I would put up with it for all of a day before letting the dratted thing have 'an accident' and thus suffer an unexplained sinking event!

If everyone took that attitude, the 'low cost' part of the idea becomes a lot more expensive! Plus I thought the whole idea was not to let the other sub know you could see them so that you could get rid of them as required. A continous yapping dog following you around is not exactly subtle!

If however, these things were to form a large patrolling circle around a carrier group in order to drive off enemy subs, that would make more sense...

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Why blow it up?

All you need is a "blocking" ship to put itself in the way of the robo-ship and whilst it's trying to dodge past that, the sub slips silently away...

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Pirate

it doesn't matter too much if you lose the odd robo-frigate

Anyone thought to ask the frigate about this?

Shades of Dark Star spring to mind

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Stop

Scary, scary thoughts

Speaking also from experience, the idea of "Ghost Ships" scares the hell out of me. Once upon a time every boat kept a good look out and, as required by maritime law, would respond to any may-day calls. Now days you already have super-freighters, with perhaps no more than 10 or 12 crew, driving on auto-pilot for a large part of their journey.

They already scare me enough when sailing alone (a small sailing vessel would be almost invisible to their radar) - but at least you know there is a chance someone might be looking out, and worse-come-to-worse you can give the bridge a shout over the VHF and let them know you are there.

The idea of large, over-powered, unmanned warship, powering through the Atlantic, really will keep me awake at night when anywhere at sea from now on! I really do hope they pick up all local VHF communications and relay them back to an actual person, 24/7.

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Unhappy

not to mention the fact that...

these suckers have no space for crew and if they rammed you in your small vessel they'd just plod on. imagine the poor suckers in trouble, see one of these coasting by and start letting off flares/mayday signals only to have it sail on

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FAIL

Can't these guys even spell?

Surely they could have come up with some even more fraught terminology and called the thing ACTIVE?

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Black Helicopters

Can't be legal

There is apparently an argument that even single handed yachts are illegal in terms on international maritime law as you cannot keep a watch at all times, I don't see how an unpersonned ship could be any more legal. Still, not stopped them before, has it? And I see they use the blairite weasel words of "risk calculus" too.

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Possibly not

But if American?

Also in a war which has already got submarines involved no one will care about legal niceties any more.

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Generally an interesting idea

All that's left to do is to find the bloody U-boat in the first place...

And, "inexpensive to replace"? C'mon, srsly...

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FAIL

You said Frigate

I honestly can't see anyone not (a) sinking it right off, or (b) boarding it and taking all the electronics and then scuttling it. Good thinking there.

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It will be interesting to see...

How they will satisfy the rules laid down by the IMO in the IRPCS as they are binding.

There are statutes laid down that states that special rules can be implemented by governments in respect to them, but those can only be implemented in said governments local waters and NOT when upon the high seas.

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Pint

Territorial waters?

@Trygve having a laugh - think Argentina and ARA San Luis, so that makes Germany and US for two

Think of this from a submariner's point of view. Active sonar pursuit is a hostile act. One torpedo fixes that. Don't run away - surface and standby to "lend assistance". What are the possible reactions? I think shooting up a surfaced and idling submarine will not do for good public relations.

And anyway, all said submarine needs do is take a few strolls through other country's territorial waters and I think all eyes will be on the highly visible trespassing ACHOO (Anti-submarine warfare Continuously Hovering Obstreperous Obstacle).

BTW: I love "relaxed reserve buoyancy margins". "No, our ACHOO didn't fire on your submarine, it just happened to sink onto it. Terribly sorry our unmanned can canned your manned can."

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Anonymous Coward

What a tremendous idea!

Robot Planes, Robot boats, Robot(ised) soldiers. Wasn't there a SciFi novel about this rolling off into the future?

The biggest problem with a ship is accommodating humans. If you have them land based with the boat occasionally meeting supply ship for fuel and maintenance then what is the problem? The whole issue takes place in international waters so no problem there then. A spy satellite keeps the boat in view once it has acquired a target. One on a track and as fuel diminishes a second machine rocks up and takes over the pursuit. If the boat gets away then when it is next out and acquired they can keep a log of it. Just because it can track it doesn't need to just log the acoustic signature. If a diesel electric boat is sold to any Navy then you can be sure its acoustic signature is known by the supplying nation. I know, it can be changed.

Oh, and bollocks to the fish and other marine life that might be disturbed by active sonar.

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Could be a good idea

Subs and frigates play this game of nautical tag all the time. Similar to "Hunt for Red October" its common for attack boats to trail enemy subs around anyway.

You'd have to have a couple guys back at a console in the U.S. monitoring the unmanned ship and the surrounding waters and being ready to take over the ship if there was a navigation threat issue or a nearby emergency or if someone tried to board the ship and loot some of the electronics or even the fuel/metal.

Firing on an unmanned ship is still a hostile act under international law, so you can't just say "this thing is pinging my sub so I am going to blow it up". Subs get pinged all the time by other navies ships, sonobuoys, etc, so you probably can't get away with the "it pinged me so I torpedoed it" and not expect to get into a war.

If you are being pinged, can you just surface? Doesn't that throw off the active sonar's ability to detect you? Then you just move on the surface in another direction until you separate from the unmanned ship.

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Failures

No crew on board to fix or override any system that breaks down. I can see the ship now floating out in the middle of the ocean dead because the "Windows on Warships" operating system had a blue screen of death.

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Anonymous Coward

Finally!

I wondered when some saddo was going to roll out the WIndows for Warships gag. It's as funny now as it ever was.

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WTF?

Exactly...

So basically the 'enemy' sub has complete control over the obedient roboship, which follows it everywhere like a dumb dog? Hey why not have a jaunt around the English Channel or some other similarly congested area? Imagine the havoc you could cause dragging a surface ship around with you from below.

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Grenade

The Wipeoff...

Works for tailing vehicles, would work pretty well for a DumbBoat. Find maritime activity on the surface, loiter under the sea lanes until the thing becomes a nuisance. If you could get a real time traffic feed, you could test out their avoidance for blindspots. Bumper Pool, but with boats.

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These are not the droids you're looking for

Yup, these robotic ships will never ever be remote controlled. And of course they'll be totally unarmed. If you believe those statements, I have some very nice beachfront property in Arizona to sell you.

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Bah!

[[in order to avoid getting picked up again and promptly sunk by responding ships or aircraft.]]

From whence come these ships and aircraft? This daft robo-ship is designed to reduce the need for them, so presumably, they won't be there.

Also, I predict these ships will soon be home to fleeing refugees, bases for Somali pirates and I dunno what-all else. Cripes, think what will happen when the pirates get their hands on unguarded roboship technology. A single pirate ship can become a flagship of a robo-regatta, threatening all who dare sail the high seas.

The UN should demand the decommissioning of these dangerous floating fiascoes before they're built!

Luckily, Blighty has the mighty Nimrod on which to rely against the insidious second-hand non-nuclear submarine menace and will never be drawn into trying to deploy robo-ships.

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Happy

"low cost?"

I'll wait to se the bill first.

Described in an old PCW short story (anyone remeber when they did those).

Fleet of robot naval ships gradually fall silent despite nothing big enough being in the area.

Finally someone orders an overflight.

2 men in a rowboat with a rifle. Shooting out the sensors.

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I'm no naval strategist, but...

What if, upon making your way out of port, you make Roboatcop follow you past a couple of chaps in a civvie trawler who accidentally drop a few tonnes of fishing nets in the way of the props?

Propulsive overmatch my arse. Global, months long deployments with no underway human maintenance my elbow.

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Silly merkins

Conventional Diesel/electric/AIr independant/fuel cell powered subs are usually used in costal or shallow waters, not the best environment for sonar whether passive or active. This robo target, would have to enter a countries territorial waters in peace time, which makes it a legitimate target for boarding or destruction as a hazard to navigation. In war time it will still have to close in to pick up any transiting subs, making it an easy target again. Besides in nearly every naval exercise that the Americans run, where a diesel electric sub is tasked with sinking the carrier, they always succeed. They have even hired Swedish subs to practice on. The big fear is that the sub will always get in torpedo range, whether it could evade and escape afterwards I don't know. The US fears the Iranian navies submarines, which are Russian Kilo class boats with a quite a good reputation for stealth. But as always it comes down to crew training. In the Falklands conflict the argies had a couple of post war german U-boats, type 209's which if it was not for dud German weapons would have caused major problems.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARA_San_Luis

Robo ship silly idea, just can't wait for it to latch on to an American sub by mistake. "where is the off switch?" LOL.

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Pint

Yep, they won't be sending...

F15's in to shoot down the rogue Predator in this case. Wasn't something like this a scenario that the HMS Troutbridge had to evade? Real life Navy Lark, here we come!

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whales

Five years later, some whale is overheard complaining that the fucking thing won't let him SLEEP with that bloody pinging, and if it follows for another day or two he's getting a posse together for some ship-slapping.

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Paris Hilton

but surely

they could just train up a fleet of genetically engineered super dolphins to do the same thing? (maybe with little strap-on torpedoes?)

[paris because of the strap-on thing]

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Grenade

I sense a movie here

Fully automated robo-ship runs amok, starts attacking every vessel it encounters. NAVY Seals called in to stop it.... Sci-Fi channel take notice!

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