Unmanned systems have been mostly popularized within the aerial operational domain. The word "drone" evokes visions of some kind of aircraft flying overhead. However, the same unmanned technology has been in use within perhaps less obvious domains, one of which is the ocean. A Fox news article shares information regarding the Navy's plan for a fleet of 'mothership'-controlled drone boats. Per the article, the Navy is testing all types and sizes of networked USV (Unmanned Surface Vehicles) as part of the 'Operation Overlord Program'. Up to seven different USV prototypes are currently under development with the intent for them to be used as force multipliers under one integrated command and control system. However, the unmanned systems must first show they are capable of meeting the Navy's standard for wartime operations, can incorporate various payloads, and can perform coordinated operations.
In addition, the Navy is proposing using larger USV's as central motherships that can be deployed ahead of manned fleets. These motherships would provide command and control of other smaller USV's. Aside from distancing manned ships from potential conflict, the USV's would also provide higher endurance, could carry more supplies and ammunition, and would free up manned fleets for other missions.
More and more the benefits of remotely piloted and autonomous systems are being noticed and is prompting the the allocation of necessary resources in order to conduct crucial research towards development, implementation, and improvement. Technology has always been a major factor in military power. The Navy is simply taking the next step in military and technological advancement.
The adoption of unmanned systems by the U.S. Navy makes perfect sense. Once incorporated into daily naval operations missions out at sea will become much more efficient, safer, and would result in far more flexibility. Using coordinated USV's for data collection and monitoring of enemy forces and mine detection simply makes sense. By removing the human element from processes that are better done by automated systems an operation becomes more efficient and better able to react and adapt with better, faster, more accurate data. Machines are great for repetitive, dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks. Using unmanned systems is just the best option for such tasks with the added benefit of not exposing sailors to unnecessary dangers.
That is not to say that all human input should be removed from the loop. The article states that in situations where lethal action is necessary a human will still be the one to both determine when and if such a situation exists, and will make the final decision to take or not take lethal action. This is an important point to make due to very serious ethical concerns and the fact that AI (Artificial Intelligence) is still not yet at a point where it can be relied upon to accurately determine whether a situation requires lethal use of force or not. Even if AI was capable of such a determination, should it? That is yet another ethical issue requiring deep discussion before it is to be resolved.
At this point technology and industry is evolving so quickly that unmanned systems are an inevitable reality of life, whether it be in civilian, industrial, or military applications. The benefits of such technology are massive, and more benefits and applications will continue to be discovered. Along with those benefits will come unintended consequences, challenges, and dangers that will need to be addressed and promptly resolved to ensure ongoing responsible use and development of such technology.