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July 13, 2021updated 10 Dec 2021 8:19am

Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs): Regulatory Trends

With the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in USVs at full maturity, it is expected that USVs will take part in naval battle groups with manned platforms.

By GlobalData Thematic Research

A significant challenge facing weapon system use on USVs is the control issue, where weapons must be remotely controlled, and engagement decisions must be made by an operator.

Regulatory Trends

Listed below are the key regulatory trends impacting the USV theme, as identified by GlobalData.

Ethics in AI

With the use of AI in the defence sector, the issue of “killer robots” appears regularly and the ethical dimension of the issue has been discussed at length. In view of these debates, military experts and defence industries increasingly emphasise that human intelligence will always be involved in the decision-making process. Considering these ethical debates, the use of AI and autonomous vehicles in mine countermeasure (MCM) operations can be more flexible than in other combat operations.

The underwater is generally free from non-combatants and the target is a sea mine, limiting ethical concerns. In addition, the low speed and limited capability of underwater communication systems make the exploitation of autonomous systems arguably more necessary in this domain than many others. Because of ethical debates and the lack of full trust in autonomous systems, USVs which are equipped with weapon systems are remotely controlled by an operator.

Collision avoidance

Every vessel at sea, including USVs, must obey the International Maritime Organisation rules approved by the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS). Collision avoidance for a USV is significant for the fulfilment of autonomous navigation. USV manufacturers have been developing more reliable collision-avoidance algorithms compatible with the International Regulations for Preventing Collision at Sea (COLREGS).

For instance, Leidos’s 40m prototype trimaran Sea Hunter transited between Hawaii and San Diego without human intervention. Sea Hunter became the first ship to navigate from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii autonomously, and back without a single crew member on board, except very short duration boarding by personnel from an escort vessel to check electrical and propulsion systems.

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This is an edited extract from the Unmanned Surface Vehicles – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.

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