A couple of day ago I said that “Our current Halifax class frigates have a complement (crew) of 225; the Type 26 global combat ships that we plan to buy to replace them are likely to have a crew size of about 125.” But, I also mentioned that the Navy needs a certain number of “bottoms” in the water to meet the demands the government places on it. How small, one wonders can crews get? My Navy friends remind us that a warship needs to be able to survive and that means that when, not if, it takes battle damage then a very expensive warship needs enough sailors to fight fires and do emergency repairs (damage control, the Navy calls it) to keep the ship afloat and its priceless crew alive until help arrives to either take it under tow or make it able to limp home under its own power.
But what if a ship was cheap (say $50 Million, rather than $500+ Million each) and what if the crew was … zero?
The US Navy is testing a “drone” warship for anti-submarine patrols; this video explains how it works. The ‘Sea Hunter‘ is, properly an autonomous unmanned surface vessel; it is 123 ft long and displaces 145 tons. That’s about ⅔ the length but only about 15% of the displacement of Canada’s small, Kingston class coastal defence vessels. The Sea Hunter is unarmed, for now, but if unmanned air vehicles can carry and fire weapons with great precision then, presumably, it is not beyond the wit of man to site and use precision weapons on an unmanned surface vessel. The Sea Hunter is closer in size and cost to Canada’s Orca class training vessels.
Could this, an autonomous, unmanned surface vessel, be the future of patrol ships for some Navies?