The ONR’s solution, Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing (CARACaS) was demonstrated over two weeks in August on the James River in Virginia, US. The trial saw five USVs working together in a mission to escort a high-value Navy ship, and then swarm round a threat vessel. They not only interacted with each other, but also with manned and remote-controlled vessels in a fleet of up to 13 at a time.

"This networking unmanned platforms demonstration was a cost-effective way to integrate many small, cheap, and autonomous capabilities that can significantly improve our warfighting advantage," said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations.

Given budget cuts and a growing aversion to ‘drones’ from outside, and even within, the military, is more research even feasible?

CARACaS can be installed on almost any boat to enable it to operate autonomously as part of a swarm to intercept enemy vessels or provide a defensive escort for other naval assets. It is designed as an easily transportable kit, and future versions could control even more vessels, and extend its capability to include unmanned underwater vessels (UUVs) underwater and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). When deployed, any weapons fire from the USVs would be initiated by a sailor supervising the mission rather than automatic.

"This multiplies combat power by allowing CARACaS-enabled boats to do some of the dangerous work," said Dr. Robert Brizzolara, programme manager at ONR. "It will remove our sailors and Marines from many dangerous situations, for instance when they need to approach hostile or suspicious vessels. If an adversary were to fire on the USVs, no humans would be at risk."

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