The U.S. Navy is executing a complex campaign to assimilate unmanned warships into its fleet of combat vessels. So far, the most promising candidate is a robotic submarine developed by Boeing called Orca, which can operate autonomously for 30 days while diving thousands of feet below the ocean surface. Orca will likely commence service as a minelayer, but its large payload capacity and endurance also lend themselves to intelligence gathering, antisubmarine operations, electronic warfare, mine countermeasures and strike missions against surface targets. The Navy will need to experiment with prototypes to see which missions make the most sense. If all goes as planned, though, Orca–the first “extra-large unmanned undersea vehicle”– could be a real gamechanger in the Pacific, helping to defeat the anti-access/area-denial strategy of China. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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