The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Nebraska (SSBN 739) transits the Hood Canal as it returns home Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Washington, following the boat's first strategic patrol since 2013. (U.S. Navy/ Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Amanda R. Gray)
The U.S. naval fleet of the future may one day include submarines without a sailor from bow to stern that prowl the depths of the ocean, navigating mine-infested waters to gather intelligence or even clandestinely drop explosives.
The military views autonomous vehicles as a way to accomplish missions deemed too risky, mundane or expensive for human crews. While aerial drones have largely been tasked with these types of duties for more than a decade, the Navy is now increasingly funding robotic ships and undersea drones to complement the work done by its crewed vessels.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), foreground, leads a formation of Carrier Strike Group Five ships for a photo exercise during Valiant Shield 2018 in the Philippine Sea Sept. 17, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erwin Miciano)
The U.S. Navy is considering developing robotic warships. Cheaper to build than today ship's and expendable, the unmanned vessels could help the Navy quickly to grow — and could allow the fleet to develop new tactics for battling a high-tech foe.