Feeds

US plans crewless automated ghost-frigates

Mary Celeste class robot X-ships to prowl seas

Business security measures using SSL

But who would give the cocktail parties?

Normally, lurking right on top of a hostile sub making lots of noise would be seen as quite a dangerous plan for a frigate captain. Should an actual war break out, the sub might well be able to torpedo the ship before it could itself be destroyed. But this wouldn't be such a disastrous result in the case of an ACTUV. As DARPA puts it: "A low cost, unmanned platform creates a disruptive change in ASW operational risk calculus."

Or in other words it doesn't matter too much if you lose the odd robo-frigate. Particularly as the enemy sub would then have to make a top-speed submerged dash away from the burning wreck of its ACTUV shadower, in order to avoid getting picked up again and promptly sunk by responding ships or aircraft.

Unfortunately for diesel-electric submarine captains, the sub's batteries are only good for one such sprint before running almost flat: which would leave it out of juice not far from the scene of its crime, unable to get further except maybe at a crawl. In theory it might put up a snorkel mast to run its diesels and recharge its batteries - or flee on the surface - but this would be very dangerous with hostile ships and aircraft about, as radar reaches much further and more reliably than sonar does.

All in all, quite a cunning idea then. Rule-of-the-road navigation should be easy enough to automate (for all that boneheaded officer trainees sometimes struggle to master it) and sonar tracking shouldn't be too hard when you can go as close in and make as much noise as you like. And an unmanned ship should not only be cheaper to run, it might be possible to make it much cheaper to build - and yet offer better performance:

Conventional naval architecture should be examined in this unmanned system context, which in addition to recouping first order crew support overhead, may offer second order benefits such as relaxed reserve buoyancy margins, dynamic stability limits, and even new platform orientation assumptions. The objective is to demonstrate disproportionate platform capabilities in terms of speed, endurance, sea keeping, and maneuverability.

The program will also maintain a strong focus on exploiting novel system architectures and internal arrangements enabled by being unmanned to explore new construction methods and maintenance approaches to achieve disproportionately low system procurement cost and efficient inter-deployment maintenance.

It certainly tends to bear out the view of those naval personnel who aren't frigate sailors by trade: that the only thing frigates really do which couldn't be done better by a robot is give show-the-flag cocktail parties in foreign ports.

No doubt that's an overly harsh assessment. Even so, with the coming crunch on government spending and aspirations to buy new carriers and jets to fly from them - not to mention the fact that crewed frigates are scarcely a very effective means of dealing with common-or-garden thugs with guns either - perhaps the Royal Navy too should be thinking along these lines.

Needless to say, it isn't.

Meanwhile, it seems to us that there's only one possible name for the first ghostly, crewless X-ship of the class. ®

Lewis Page spent 11 years in the Royal Navy, largely managing to stay out of frigates but not altogether. Most of the time he was a mine-clearance diver - another field in which humans' jobs are under threat from robots.

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.