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Next year, the US Navy will carry out the biggest unmanned fleet exercise to ever happen in the Pacific Ocean.

According to Rear Admiral Robert Gaucher, director of maritime headquarters with the US Pacific Fleet, the US Navy will deploy the fleet of drones in order to test how it can incorporate the technology into combat situations.


“We’re shooting for early 2021 to be able to run a fleet battle problem that is centered on unmanned,” Rear Adm. Gaucher explained at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual defense show.

“It will … be on the sea, above the sea, and under the sea as we get to demonstrate how we can align to the [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command] directives to use experimentation to drive lethality,” he continued. 

A US Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator aircraft aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, Source: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons

As Military.com describes, the US Navy regularly runs fleet battle tests, though this is the first time that unmanned vehicles have been incorporated to such a degree.

Gaucher explained that the Navy is still in the planning stage for the unmanned battle fleet test, but the operation will likely include a command-and-control aspect, as well as sensors and payloads.

On Friday, the Navy awarded close to $42 million in contracts to six companies to develop plans for new large unmanned surface vessels. Work on the plans for those vessels is expected to be completed by mid-2022.

The service wants an eye-watering $2 billion to allow it to build 10 large unmanned surface vessels over the next five years. Leading members of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces have tried try to block the Navy from buying any of the drone ships next year as they have yet to lay out a clear plan on how they will be used.

Navy Department leaders emphasized at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual defense show that automated and unmanned vehicles will play a vital role in future maritime operations, especially in case a conflict were to break out with China.

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