China tested AI-controlled spearfishing underwater drone decade ago: report
A new report claims that China has apparently been working for decades on underwater drones capable of autonomously identifying and attacking hostile submarines. The once-secret Unmanned Underwater Vehicle, or UUV, may have already been tested in the strategically vital Taiwan Strait in 2010.
The revelations come from an army-funded research program that was partially declassified last week, according to the South China Morning Post, or SCMP, an English language newspaper based in Hong Kong. The UUV in question is said to be capable of “recognizing, tracking and attacking an enemy submarine without human instruction” and was developed by Harbin University of Engineering, which SCMP described as the “best sub-research institute. Beijing Navy “.
The same article also mentions the possibility of “a variant of the sub [that] could be planted on the seabed and activated in the event of confrontation or war.
The concept, as reportedly described by Guolong and colleagues, appears to be based on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to better identify and track submerged targets, promising better results than sonar operators. humans, for example. “Sonar operators should always use their eyes and ears to make judgments on important matters such as the identification of friendly vessels, with final decisions being made by the captain,” the article says.
Nonetheless, no details are given in the SCMP article on how the UVU would identify and exactly classify underwater targets, after acquiring them using sonar, or on its power supply and type of performance it could offer.
Meanwhile, although it is suggested that the 2010 test took place in the Taiwan Strait, this also cannot be confirmed at this point. SCMP claims that “partial map coordinates in their article” indicate that the trial was conducted “off the coast of eastern Fujian Province, in or near the Taiwan Strait.”
In this test, it is claimed that the UUV patrolled at a depth of about 30 feet, along a predetermined route, and then used on-board “sonar” to detect a target craft that reproduced the sound signature of a sub. -marine.
The UUV then “circled in a hexagonal pattern and pointed its sonar arrays at various sound sources, while artificial intelligence attempted to filter out ambient noise and determine the nature of the target.”
An unarmed torpedo would then have been fired by the UUV towards the simulated submarine. Although the size and type of the torpedo is not indicated, if it were a conventional sized weapon of this type it would suggest a large underwater drone, perhaps similar to the vehicle under – American Extra Large Marine Orca (XLUUV) which is now under development. In its initial form, however, the 51-foot Orca will not be armed.
China also has its own very rough equivalent of the Orca, known as HSU-001, although this was only identified in 2019, almost a decade after the supposed UUV test. Alternatively, the mention of a torpedo could suggest the development of a smaller torpedo, another area of interest to navies around the world at this time.
China has also been actively working on other types of UUVs, with various examples of ocean glider-type unmanned underwater vehicles having been found in the waters of the Asia-Pacific region in recent years. The exact purpose of these is unknown, but there has been speculation that Beijing used them to conduct underwater surveys of the routes between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, information which could be particularly relevant. useful for its submarines passing through these diving areas. .
While the SCMP says that “it is not clear why China has now declassified the details of the test,” the same source points to a recent increase in tensions between authorities in Beijing and those on the island of Taiwan, suggesting that this might have prompted the reported partial report. decommissioning.
Harbin Engineering University Professor Liang Guolong is quoted by SCMP as explaining that these UUVs currently operate mostly individually, but in the future may function as submarine swarms.
However, the lack of detail in the history of the SCMP has led some observers to question the accuracy of the report and even the veracity of the original declassified article, which is said to have appeared in the Harbin University of Engineering Journal.
In one piece for Forbes, David Hambling, suggest that an academic institute such as Harbin University of Engineering is unlikely to handle a weapon – even if it is unarmed – in early development tests and suggest that the torpedo launch could be fully simulated. However, Harbin University of Engineering is a government-controlled institution with long-standing ties to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) since its founding in 1953 as the Military Engineering Institute of the PL. Beyond that, in general, it’s not uncommon for so-called civilian research institutions in China to participate in work that could at least have potential military applications, if not done for the military. As already noted, the SCMP report indicates that this test was sponsored by the PLA.
However, there is no doubt that SCMP has, in the past, published stories of Chinese military technology with extraordinary sounds that did not actually materialize. Hambling points out weather radar and one laser assault rifle as examples of this phenomenon. The war zone also contested this latter report when it was first published. Like these, the AI-piloted underwater drone might have a basis in scientific research, but might not be real hardware.
On the other hand, however, China is clearly busy with a range of high-tech activities in the submarine military realm and UUVs, in particular, are an area of interest. Guolong himself, as Hambling observes, has also conducted research on sonar for UUVs, although the example of an article he highlights is a more recent tangential study that describes similar capabilities, but much less impressive.
Finally, Hambling notes that the purported research paper is currently not listed on the Harbin University of Engineering Journal website, making it impossible, at this time, to compare the SCMP’s claims to the team’s initial findings. However, if this study were filed, it might not be included in these lists, and we still don’t know for sure where SCMP got the alleged study from.
Regarding the specific technological claims made, some of the capabilities attributed to the torpedo-armed AI-piloted UUV already exist in other submarine applications. The US Navy, for example, is already working on a dropped mine, called Hammerhead, which is destined to wait months after deployment before autonomously engaging a target, using sonar and a torpedo payload. . The Chinese UUV, as described, would of course offer additional capabilities, being able to move as well as patrol certain areas of interest.
The United States, at least, is also working on technologies apparently parallel to the Chinese UUV. Under a program known as CLAWS, the US Navy seeks to “develop an autonomous unmanned submarine weapon system capable of providing offensive effects to combat commanders beyond Phase 0. inside. the first chain of islands», According to the budget request for the 2021 fiscal year of the service. “This will covertly extend the reach of large UUVs and increase mission areas in kinetic effects,” the report adds.
It is almost certainly fair to urge caution about the details of the SCMP’s history and the potential for China to have deployed, in 2010, the kinds of capabilities seemingly promised in the elusive academic document. Equally important, however, is that underwater drones of this type are, at least today, within reach of China and other great powers.
UUVs are already proliferating, and as they grow in size and range, they will add sonar, AI brains, communications links, and other more complex and efficient technologies that will allow them to better monitor movements of enemy submarines and attack them if necessary.
If we are to believe this report and China was doing it over ten years ago, we can only imagine what they have now.
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