US Navy’s Unmanned Surface Ship Fires its First Missile

Foreign Affairs

Washington: As the US Navy continues to experiment with and expand upon its burgeoning drone fleet in the Middle Eastern patrolled by US 5th Fleet, an unmanned surface ship fired missiles for the first time there during an exercise last month.

The firing of a so-called “Lethal Missile Aerial Missile System” from a MARTAC T38 Devil Ray drone came during the Digital Talon exercise in the waters around the Arabian Peninsula on October 23, according to the Navy. The exercise was overseen by Task Force 59, a Navy unit dedicated to unmanned and artificial intelligence technologies.

For the first time in the Middle East, a Navy surface drone used a mobile missile system to destroy a target boat during an exercise off the Arabian Peninsula on October 23. During the event, the drones teamed up with manned vessels to identify simulated enemy boats and fired missiles that destroyed the targets, according to the Navy.

While the Devil Ray’s missile firing marked a milestone, a human operator ashore still made the call to engage. The Middle East has become a test bed for the Navy’s drone systems in recent years, where relatively calm and steady waters have provided an ideal environment for such concepts. Navy brass said earlier this year that they are looking to deploy a manned-unmanned hybrid fleet in the next decade.

Before the Digital Talon exercise, Navy underwater, surface and aerial drones achieved another milestone in September, when they helped track Iranian navy and Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps ships over several days in and around the Strait of Hormuz, the Navy said.