Many predictions about the world’s future point towards one where the skies are filled with drones. In daily life these are likely to be used by ecommerce and other companies, making deliveries far and wide. Yet such technology does and can have a useful application for naval forces around the world. Already a number have developed and put to good use certain drones, while others are currently developing new and practical uses for them.
Not all drones fly through the air. Lockheed Martin has developed unmanned submarine drones which have been scouted for the US Navy. Not only can these drone submarines be used to increase surveillance levels when contact has been acoustically detected, they can also interact with aerial drones.
In the demonstration, high levels of autonomy and communication were evident, as the submarine drone ordered a floating one to launch an aerial drone. For the navy, this offers less of an expense to be lost if any such drone is lost due to bad weather or enemy activity. It can also save lives with unmanned drones heading into territory that’s too dangerous.
By 2020 the US Navy expects to have fully operational units for unmanned, underwater missions. In 2017 it formed its first ever dedicated underwater drone unit as a key milestone in the development in navy drone use.
Hunting Pirates and Smugglers
ScanEagle was a fleet of drones used by the British Navy to track drug gangs, pirates and people smugglers. It was used from 2013 until 2017 mainly across the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, before financial cuts resulted in its service ending. Costing around £60m in total, these drones were launched from a deck catapult and could stay in the air for up to ten hours while beaming back footage.
However, with the financial cuts and disappearance of ScanEagle drones, there are fears that the British Navy will now be without ship-based drones for two years. This is despite it being used successfully in 2015 to track drug runners and seize £98m worth of heroin off the east coast of Africa.
Recently the US Navy has set out to develop or acquire drones which can fly over damaged airfields to create a plan for getting planes back in the air quickly. These types of drones would use artificial intelligence to fly over airfields after an attack, scanning the ground to map out the area.
New craters that have appeared would be mapped, along with their size and how they can be filled in. Such drone technology is already partly available, with those that can create high-fidelity maps of locations, but none that can yet come up with a plan to repair damaged ground. It’s only a matter of time before this will be developed.
Defending Against Drones
As well as developing drones with a military purpose, many navies are creating ways to defend themselves against such technology from the enemy. The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) is the most well-known defence, with more lasers being developed and deployed on warships. At the same time however, technology is advancing so that drones themselves are now more capable of evading such attacks.
It’s not just the military that are looking at measures to defend against drone developments, those involved in maritime trade have growing concerns with the security risks drones provide. Services such as those offered by DWF Law can help to solve cross-border disputes, piracy, security and other such issues.
Militaries and national navies around the world are all heavily invested in the development of drones as forms of attack and defence in the newest age of warfare.