In the western Pacific, China already has an advantage in ships numbers compared to the United States. If the Chinese fleet acquires large numbers of inexpensive robotic vessels, that advantage could grow. The Chinese company has revealed a design for a small robotic warship that could compete with unmanned warships the United States is developing. The next Chinese Robot warships are getting ready.
Unmanned ships could help to extend Beijing’s regional naval advantage over the U.S. fleet.China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Company at the IDEX-2019 trade show in Abu Dhabi showed off a model of an armed, crewless boat.
The JARI unmanned surface vehicle is 49 feet long and displaces 20 tons of water, Defense News reported. It can sail for around 500 miles at a top speed of 42 knots, according to the trade publication.
The JARI comes equipped with electro-optical sensor atop a superstructure, a phased array radar, a dipping sonar, eight small vertical launch system cells, a torpedo launcher, and a forward mounted machine gun and rocket launcher for counter-surface engagements.
According to the product video, the drone appears to be modular and reconfigurable for the different mission areas, but it’s unclear what missions are permanently integrated into the system. In the video, JARI is shown alternately shooting down an aerial drone, sinking a submarine, machine-gunning a RHIB full of adversaries trying to steal it (after firing warning shots) and sinking a surface ship that looked a little like a littoral combat ship.
It’s unclear how autonomous JARI is and where human operators are in its control system. JARI made its public debut as the U.S. Navy was getting ready to begin developing its own robotic warships.
Size of the warships
The programs could cover at least two types of unmanned surface vessel. One is a medium-size unmanned surface vessel around the size of the Defense Advanced Research Agency’s 132-feet-long experimental Sea Hunter robot ship. “The medium USVs will act as scouts and decoys, carrying sensors and jammers,” Breaking Defense reported.
There’s also a larger USV around the size of conventional corvette, which would provide additional punch, loaded with missile launchers but relying on other vessels to find the enemy and relay targeting data.
Manufacturing and maintaining the additional ships would cost as much as $23 billion a year, according to the Congressional Research Service. For years, the Navy’s annual shipbuilding budget has been around $15 billion.
All together, the Chinese fleets operate no fewer than 650 ships with military missions. Add the U.S. Navy’s ships to those of Military Sealift Command and the U.S. Coast Guard and you get 645 vessels.
All three major Chinese sea forces remain focused first and foremost on the contested near seas and their immediate approaches, close to China’s homeland, land-based air and missile coverage and supply lines.