- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2014

The U.S. Navy has announced a breakthrough in drone “swarming” technology that will allow unmanned ships to sense the environment and react to threats. The autonomous vehicles are able to protect high-value units.

The ship protection technology originated in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER).

A recent exercise on the James River near Fort Eustis, Virginia, demonstrated the game-changing technology, the defense website Military.com reported Tuesday.

“When we look at autonomous swarm, we’re not talking about a single vessel. We’re talking about multiple-multiple vessels that can be in a defensive posture and then when called upon can then become offensive, surround an adversary and let them know that you are coming no closer to our ship,” Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval research, told the Office of Naval Research on Oct. 4.

“But of course, if an adversarial threat decides to come closer we can give them another warning or potentially we can say, ‘You’ve come too close. We are now going to destroy your vessel,’ ” he added.

The Navy is excited about the new technology because it can be installed upon existing vessels.

“You don’t have to go out and purchase a new vessel. You take any of these vessels out here that the Navy already has, we unman them, we put the system on it — you put the eyes and ears depending on what kind of mission you want to do, on the vessel — and then let it go do its mission, said Rick Simon, director of Robotics, Spatial Integrated Systems, said in an interview with the Office of Naval research.

The U.S. Navy believes if drone swarming technology existed in Oct. 2000, then the USS Cole bombing that killed 17 sailors and injured 39 others would not have happened.

“If we had this capability there on that day, I’m sure it would have saved that ship,” Adm. Klunder, chief of naval research, said in a recent teleconference with reporters, Military.com reported. “We don’t ever want to see that happen again.”

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