The Pentagon's crewless robot ship has fired its very first missile.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) shared a video of the Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) Ranger launching a Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) in a test for the US Navy’s Ghost Fleet experimentation program. The SM-6 is a ship-launched 6.6-meter (21.5 feet) rocket designed for anti-air warfare and anti-ship strikes. It can also protect ships by intercepting incoming ballistic missiles.
Aside from this flashy video montage (turn the sound on for the epic accompanying music), little else is known about the missile launch, although the Pentagon has previously released information about its fleet of crewless ships, known as Ghost Fleet Overlord.
Back in June 2021, the DoD announced the success of a second long-range journey of an autonomous ship after an uncrewed vessel, named Nomad, traveled 8,187 kilometers (4,421 nautical miles) from the Caribbean Sea, passing through the Panama Canal, to the Pacific Coast. Remarkably, up to 98 percent of this journey was completed in autonomous mode, free from human command. Ranger, the vessel that recently launched the missile, completed a similar transit in October 2020. Two additional Ghost Fleet Overlord uncrewed ships are currently under construction and will be used in the Navy’s experimentation and testing of this novel technology.
Robot military ghost ships firing warheads might sound like something straight out of a dystopian nightmare, but autonomous ships are likely to make a huge splash in the coming years.
Even beyond military applications, there is a range of advantages to crewless vessels in civilian seafaring. Three-quarters of maritime accidents are caused by human error and AI eventually could prove to be significantly safer than a human helm. Crewless ships could be built lighter, needing less space for the crew, reducing fuel consumption, environmental impact, and costs. There are currently some downsides, such as reliability, issues of liability, and the threat of cyberattacks, to name a few. However, it looks like the era of the crewless ship is upon us.