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Navy Ghost Fleet Vessel Sails 5,000 Miles in Autonomous Mode

It’s been many years now since the first drones took to the sky, and even if most of them still need human operators, they could easily perform activities in autonomous mode. However, not the same can be said about seafaring vessels, whose self-sailing capabilities are just beginning to be researched.
Ghost Fleet Overlord test vessel 4 photos
Ghost Fleet Overlord test vesselGhost Fleet Overlord test vesselGhost Fleet Overlord test vessel
The U.S. Navy has a special program dedicated to this. It’s aptly named Ghost Fleet Overlord, and it's aimed at creating “the Navy’s new classes of unmanned surface vessels (USVs).” The program is presently in its second stage, with tests already being conducted in the waters of the world.

The latest achievement was announced this week and comes in the form of an USV called Nomad, which traveled from the Gulf Coast, through the Panama Canal, and all the way to the West Coast. That would be a distance of over 5,000 miles (8,000 km), 98 percent of which was done with the ship in autonomous mode—the only part of the journey when humans stepped in was while the ship was crossing the Panama Canal.

And this is not even the first time the Navy has done this. In October last year, another vessel, the Ranger, performed the same task.

Now both ships are on the West Coast, where they will “participate in fleet experimentation exercises to further mature the autonomy systems, demonstrate system reliability, and explore employment concepts for coordinated operations with manned combatants.”

Testing is expected to continue well into 2022, when the ships will leave the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) and fully join the Navy for further experiments. Two more ships are presently being built to enlarge the autonomous fleet, and five companies (Austal, Huntington Ingalls Industries, Fincantieri Marinette, Bollinger Shipyards, Lockheed Martin and Gibbs & Cox) are in the race for the contract the Navy will eventually award.

press release
 
 
 
 
 

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