Self-guided unmanned patrol boats that can leave warships they're protecting and swarm and attack potential threats on the water could join the Navy's fleet within a year, defense officials say, adding the new technology could one day help stop attacks like the deadly 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen.
The Arlington-based Office of Naval Research demonstrated the autonomous swarm boat technology over two weeks in August on the James River near Fort Eustis in Virginia—not far from one of the Navy's largest fleet concentration areas. It said the Navy simulated a transit through a strait, just like the routine passage of U.S. warships through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.
In the demonstrations, as many as 13 small unmanned patrol boats were escorting a high-value Navy ship. Then as many as eight of the self-guided vessels broke off and swarmed around a threat when a ship playing the part of an enemy vessel was detected, the office said, calling the demonstrations a success.