US Navy tests new USV in Arabian Gulf to expand unmanned operations

US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) has started operating the Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel (USV) in the Arabian Gulf, expanding the US 5th Fleet’s integration of new unmanned systems.

The vessel is a 23-foot-long (7 meters), 16-foot-tall (4.8 meters) USV reliant on wind power for propulsion. The unit houses a package of sensors powered through solar energy for building a shared picture of the surrounding seas.

Photo by: US NAVCENT

The Saildrone launched in the Gulf of Aqaba on 12 December successfully operated at sea continuously for more than 30 days, demonstrating persistence in a dynamic maritime environment.

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Task Force 59, NAVCENT’s dedicated staff for new unmanned systems and artificial intelligence discovery, initiated its operational testing off the coast of Bahrain one month after launching the Saildron in the Gulf of Aqaba.

“The initial Saildrone assessment phase at sea in the Gulf of Aqaba has exceeded our expectations,” said Cmdr. Thomas McAndrew, the task force’s deputy commander.

“We are applying the results and rapidly expanding operations.”

The tests were conducted as part of an initiative to integrate new unmanned systems and artificial intelligence into US 5th Fleet operations. 

Last September, NAVCENT established Task Force 59 in Bahrain where it is headquartered. The task force has since commenced at-sea evaluations of new Mantas T-12 and Devil Ray T-38 USVs off the coast of Bahrain before International Maritime Exercise (IMX) 2022 in February. IMX is slated to include unmanned systems from partner nations, which will make it the largest unmanned exercise in the world.

“The interest and support from our partners has grown exponentially as we collectively learn from operational testing,” said McAndrew.

“We are mutually benefiting from these systems, and the creativity and new use cases can only come from our experience in the water.”

Ongoing evaluations of new unmanned systems in the US 5th Fleet help drive discovery, innovation, and fleet integration. The US Navy is learning important lessons that will inform future operational employment, the officials concluded.