​Ghost Ships: Royal Canadian Navy Exploring Sea Drones

Staff Reporter
May. 20, 2014

It seems that the Royal Canadian Navy is in favor of ghost ships, or sea drones, in the not-too-distant future. The government is exploring options for unmanned ships, something Defense Minister Peter MacKay says could appear in the not-too-distant future.

The unmanned surface vehicles, or USVs, are the naval equivalent of unmanned aerial vehicles, the remote-control drones that are fast becoming the weapon choice for the Obama administration in the growing number of recent targeted killings of al-Qaeda terrorists.

The technology for USVs is in its infancy compared with the aerial drones, but MacKay told The Canadian Press they could have a role to play in “near future” of the Canadian navy.

“We’re surrounded by water,” MacKay said. “Unmanned vessels, like unmanned aerial vehicles, give us reach and capability without the same risk. It allows you to keep harm at a distance. So there’s a lot of interest. … But it’s new technology.”

As part of a broader research and development initiative by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, MacKay recently announced a $3-million grant to Rolls Royce to help support research into USVs in his home province of Nova Scotia.

“In short, the project will develop technology for automatically conducting refuelling and launch-recovery missions at sea for unmanned surface vehicles,” said a May 23 ACOA statement announcing the initiative.

The commander of the navy says integrating USVs into the future fleet plan is already under consideration, particularly when it comes time to replace the current frigates late in the next decade.

“Any technologies, as they emerge, I’m keen to see how we can exploit them to make us better,” Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

How the introduction of roboships would affect plans to replace the manned fleet, as laid out under the Conservative government’s much-hyped shipbuilding strategy, is unclear.

The navy is already testing remote technology, with small, unmanned aerial vehicles called Scan Eagles flying from navy frigates on a trial basis.

Over the last couple of years, navy coastal patrol ships have used underwater robots to hunt mines in conjunction with the American naval and coast guard exercises.

The devices plunge to the bottom of the ocean and scour for explosives.

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