Pentagon Developing Naval Drone Swarms for War With China

by | Feb 19, 2024

Pentagon Developing Naval Drone Swarms for War With China

by | Feb 19, 2024

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160514-N-SF508-036 PANAMA CITY, Fla. (May 14, 2016) —Engineman 2nd Class Jonathan Lavoie (left) and Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class Christopher Kyall (right), assigned to Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 (MDSU) Unmanned Systems Platoon 204, load a Mark 18 Mod. 2 unmanned underwater vehicle onto a rigid-hull inflatable boat during an Expeditionary Mine Countermeasure (ExMCM) certification exercise at Naval Support Activity Panama City, Fla.(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Charles Oki/Released)

The US Navy will test surface and underwater drone swarms next month in preparation for a future war with China. In the near term, American defense officials have warned that war with China over Taiwan could break out. The US is developing drone swarms in other domains for war in the Pacific. 

Adm. Sam Paparo, the head of the US Pacific Fleet, explained, “Beginning in March, we’ll execute Integrated Battle Problem 24.1.” He said it involves a “test and experiment” with naval drone swarms. 

The weapons being developed include a “large-diameter” unmanned submarine and “small uncrewed surface vessels that are functionally meant to be an interceptor.” The drones will be integrated with air and surface drones with AI for a potential war with China. 

“Drones may also be key to [Indo-Pacific Command’s] Joint Fires Network, a nascent battle-management system designed to find and deliver target data to forces much faster. The system will use AI and likely drones,” Paparo said at the AFCEA West conference. 

He went on to say the Pentagon envisioned “putting tens or hundreds of thousands of sea, sub, and air drones into operation.”

The Department of Defense is also developing drone swarms for use in air attacks. Adm. John Aquilino, head of US INDOPACOM, discussed deploying as many as 1,000 drones within 24 hours. “Here’s a metric for me: 1,000 targets for 24 hours,” he said. 

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks explained the numbers can be scaled from the thousands to higher numbers in the future. “We’ll also aim to replicate and inculcate how we will achieve that goal, so we can scale whatever’s relevant in the future again and again and again. Easier said than done? You bet. But we’re going to do it,” she said. 

To deter China from attacking Taiwan, Paparo asserted that the US needed to maintain “air and maritime superiority.”. However, Washington’s massive military buildup in the Asia-Pacific has nudged Beijing away from believing peaceful reunification with Taiwan is possible.

About Kyle Anzalone

Kyle Anzalone is news editor of the Libertarian Institute, opinion editor of and co-host of Conflicts of Interest with Will Porter and Connor Freeman.

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