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An Unmanned Artificial Intelligence-Guided Chinese Submarine Fleet: What Could Go Wrong?
The South China Morning Post reported on July 23rd that the Chinese Academy of Sciences is pursuing designs for a fleet of unmanned autonomous underwater submarines. These submersibles would be able to take on a docket of missions, from whale tracking to anti-carrier kamikaze ops. And the ace up China's sleeve to make this a reality is artificial intelligence.
The use of unmanned underwater vehicles — UUVs — has been ongoing since the mid-’60s. However, the large majority of these drones, including the U.S.’s, have been controlled remotely by a human operator at the surface or in another sub. Maintaining control over a submerged drone is difficult under the best circumstances. But China’s fearless embrace of a possible robot uprising has conquered all that, supposedly. With AI at the helm, the limitations of remote human controls are theoretically eliminated.
The downsides, though, are many. An AI-driven sub could go rogue and attack a tanker or a random blue whale. Perhaps it could surface and fire on a British frigate to incite a war for TV ratings, like in a certain James Bond film. But even if you don’t speculate on the apocalyptic possibilities, you have to admit that self-driving drone subs could moot maritime law awfully fast, providing new legal challenges, just like the headaches aerial drones have created for aviation authorities.
CTG 56.1 conducts Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Training in the 5th Fleet AOR.U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonah Stepanik/Released
Some of those murky legal waters washed up in 2016, when the Chinese Navy seized a (remotely piloted) U.S. underwater drone in the South China Sea; the wayward unmanned vehicle was eventually released, but the possibilities for mishap and mayhem remain almost limitless if a fleet of armed submarines starts trawling around the world’s oceans and something goes wrong.
China isn’t the only one looking into “Extra Large Underwater Unmanned Vehicles,” or XLUUVs. Uncle Sam’s favorite defense corporations are gearing up to outfit the U.S. Navy with its own fleet of terrifying artificial intelligence driven ocean-dwellers. Lockheed Martin and Boeing have each been given over $40 million to start designing the XLUUV of the future. Submarine fights of the 21st century are looking less The Hunt For Red October and more like an episode of Battle Bots.
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2 years after the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions, the Navy has no idea if its new ship-driving training is working
Two years after a pair of deadly collisions involving Navy ships killed 17 sailors and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage, the Navy still can't figure out whether its plan to improve ship-driving training has been effective.
In fact, according to senior Navy officials quoted in a recent Government Accountability Office report on Navy ship-driving, it could take nearly 16 years or more to know if the planned changes will actually have an impact.
The command chief of the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, was removed from his position last month after his chain of command received evidence he disrespected his subordinates.
An Air Force private housing company faked its maintenance records to get millions of dollars in bonuses
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - A U.K. company that provides housing to U.S. military families came under official investigation earlier this year, after Reuters disclosed it had faked maintenance records to pocket performance bonuses at an Oklahoma Air Force base.
At the time, Balfour Beatty Communities said it strove to correctly report its maintenance work. It blamed any problems on a sole former employee at the Oklahoma base.
Now, Reuters has found that Balfour Beatty employees systematically doctored records in a similar scheme at a Texas base.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on ProPublica.
It was 10 p.m. on Jan. 15, 2018, when the phone rang in Navy Cmdr. Bryce Benson's home tucked into a wooded corner of Northern Virginia.
Benson had just gotten into bed, and his chest tightened as he saw the number was from Japan. It was his Navy attorney calling. The lawyer said he wished he had better news, but he'd get right to the point: The Navy was going to charge Benson with negligent homicide the following day.
Benson, 40, stared at the ceiling in the dark, repeating the serenity prayer as his feet pedaled with anxiety. Next to him, his wife, Alex, who'd followed him through 11 postings while raising three kids, sobbed.
Seven months earlier, Benson had been in command of the destroyer the USS Fitzgerald when it collided with a massive civilian cargo ship off the coast of Japan, ripping open the warship's side. Seven of his sailors drowned, and Benson was almost crushed to death in his cabin. It was then the deadliest maritime accident in modern Navy history.
Benson, who'd served for 18 years, accepted full responsibility. Two months after the crash, the commander of the Pacific fleet fired Benson as captain and gave him a letter of reprimand, each act virtually guaranteeing he'd never be promoted and would have to leave the service far earlier than planned. His career was essentially over.
Then, days later, another of the fleet's destroyers, the USS John S. McCain, collided with a civilian tanker, killing 10 more sailors. The back-to-back collisions exposed the Navy to bruising questions about the worthiness of its ships and the competency of the crews. Angry lawmakers had summoned the top naval officer, Adm. John Richardson, to the Hill.
Under sustained fire, Navy leaders needed a grand, mollifying gesture. So, in a nearly unprecedented move in its history, the Navy decided to treat an accident at sea as a case of manslaughter. Hastily cobbling together charges, the Navy's top brass announced — to the shock of its officers — that the captains of both destroyers would be court-martialed for the sailors' deaths.
The Navy told ProPublica that “given the tragic loss of life, scope and complexity of both collisions," it had an “obligation to exercise due diligence" and its investigation had “informed charges against" Benson and the captain of the McCain.
To many officers, the Navy had gone too far. “There was a deflection campaign," one admiral said recently, likening the Navy's response to shielding itself from an exploding grenade. “It was pretty clear Richardson wanted to dampen the frag pattern."
Even then, no one, least of all Benson, could have predicted how relentless the Navy's pursuit of him would be.