US Navy deploys unmanned drone warships in Pacific in message to China

The U.S. Navy deployed three unmanned warships this week to kick off its biennial Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC). The move comes as a sign that the Navy is integrating these unmanned ships in a region of the world where they may have to contend with China.

“The future is here,” RIMPAC 22 organizers said in a Facebook post. “Check it out. Three unmanned surface vessels, Nomad, Sea Hunter and Ranger transit the Pacific Ocean to participate in #RIMPAC2022. Unmanned systems provide additional warfighting capability and capacity to augment the #Navy’s traditional combatant force, providing commanders with a greater range of capabilities and employment options to increase the Fleet’s tactical and strategic advantages. #RIMPAC #USNavy #CapableAdaptivePartners U.S. Navy.”

The Ranger, Nomad and Sea Hunter were all developed through the Navy’s Ghost Fleet Overlord program. The Defense Department’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) began transferring the four experimental vessels in the Ghost Fleet Overlord program to the Navy fleet earlier this year. 

The Ghost Fleet Overlord program was originally intended as an experimental test bed for unmanned surface vessels (USVs). The Drive reported the unmanned fleet program came about as the Navy has been looking to implement smaller manned and unmanned ships to handle the distributed operations in contested sea regions like those that could be expected in a hypothetical conflict with China.

While these new experimental ships are still without a strictly-defined role, The Drive reported they could fulfill roles in electronic warfare missions, intelligence-gathering, anti-submarine or mine-sweeping missions, or even in stand-off roles. 

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