‘Ghost’ Ship Could Offer Unique Platform for Navy’s Unmanned Surface Vehicle Autonomous Swarm Technology, CARACaS

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(DGIwire) — In May 2014, the naval chief of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard voiced a warning to the United States: Iran would target American aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf if a war between the two countries ever broke out. Admiral Ali Fadawi, who heads the hardline Guard’s naval forces, said that the immense size of the U.S. carriers makes them an “easy target.” He added that the Guard navy had already carried out exercises targeting mockups of American warships; in one case, said Fadawi, it took only 50 seconds to destroy one of them.

Critics might scoff, but Iran’s saber-rattling elicits uncomfortable memories of the U.S.S. Cole bombing in October 2000, in which 17 U.S. sailors were killed and 39 injured in an al-Qaeda attack in a Yemeni port. In that attack, a small craft approached the destroyer, and an explosion occurred afterward, creating a 40-by-60-foot gash in the ship’s side.

To guard against such attacks, the U.S. Navy and the Office of Naval Research are developing a high-tech solution: unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) autonomous swarm technology. In theory, acting in tandem as a “swarm” of robot boats, a group of USVs using this technology could approach an enemy vessel like sharks circling their prey, without any humans on board. Each robot boat would transmit radar views to the others, so the group would share the same situational awareness. In summer 2014, the Navy conducted the first large-scale demonstration of a swarm of autonomous boats—five boats cruising simultaneously—on the James River.

The Navy claims USV technology can be scaled up to involve as many as 30 boats at a time, but there are many technical hurdles to be overcome due to the ever-changing sea surface. Other vessels can block the USVs’ contact with each other, while waves can degrade the efficiency of their sensors. Autonomous USVs require fast, accurate perception, but degraded situational awareness and high speeds can make this impossible. Several naval experts have judged that what is needed to ensure protection against swarms of enemy boats is a more stable marine platform.

Based in Portsmouth, NH, Juliet Marine Systems is aiming to provide just this sort of stable platform via its product called GHOST. Comparable to an attack helicopter on water, GHOST is a high-speed attack craft designed to protect vital waterways. Using supercavitation technology and high-performance jet engines, GHOSTachieves high speed and hull friction reduction. Its large fuel capacity allows for long-term missions, and its heavy weapons payload capacity ensures it can be stocked with weapons. What makes GHOST unique is its combination of speed, maneuverability and endurance, all essential to engaging potential enemy swarms before they reach their attack range.

Gregory E. Sancoff, President and CEO of Juliet Marine Systems (JMS), says, “We believe GHOST can potentially offer the Navy exactly the type of stability on the water that its USV technology needs to operate effectively. As a stable platform in all types of water conditions, GHOST might allow us to wage a proper defense against enemy swarms.”

“The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has boasted about their untested capability,” says Kevin Kinsella, founding partner of Avalon Ventures and first venture investor in Juliet Marine. “Avalon invested in JMS because Greg has been tested in multiple product development situations – and he has never been found wanting. Let’s see how the Iranian swarm attack boats – whose only self-declared capability is blowing up a plywood aircraft carrier – fare against a swarm of GHOSTS cruising at 80 knots, maneuverable as a wing of fighter jets, and bearing down on them bristling with smart weapons. Let’s see how the armchair general’s prediction holds up then.”

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