In view of the successful testing of unmanned vessels and artificial intelligence, the Navy’s 5th Fleet and allies are looking to build a force of 100 unmanned surface vessels (USVs) to patrol the waters from the Red Sea into the Persian Gulf, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the commander of the U.S 5th Fleet, said Tuesday.
“We’ve established a goal to have 100 unmanned surface vessels available for patrol in waters around the Arabian Peninsula by the end of the summer of 2023… with a majority of the systems coming from our international and regional partners,” Vice Adm. Brad Cooper said in an address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
Launched in September 2021 by the Navy’s 5th Fleet in the Central Command region, the new task force, regarded as Task Force 59, aims to integrate artificial intelligence and new unmanned systems to work with manned-maritime operations.
A number of USVs, including the Saildrone Explorer MARTAC’s Mantas T-12 SUV, operate on a contract basis with the 5th Fleet, according to the USNI report. Early results of the tests further prompted the Navy to rethink its fundamental assumptions about an unmanned surface vehicle program.
Task Force 59 operates in the U.S. Central Command region, stretching from Northeast Africa across the Middle East to Central and South Asia. The 5th Fleet’s area of operations encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water area which includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, and parts of the Indian Ocean. The region consists of 21 countries, along with the three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal, and the Strait of Bab al-Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.
Noting that operations in the region are maritime-centric, the area presents a range of challenges to test tech, including rough seas, hostile adversaries, and unpredictable weather, Vice Adm. Cooper pointed out before the official launch of the task force.
“Putting more eyes above, on, and below the water’s surface enhances our picture of the surrounding seas and enables us to position our crewed ships to react more rapidly,” Vice Adm. Cooper said, speaking about Task Force 59 at an international security conference in the U.K. in May.
In the region, tensions between the U.S. and Iran have been high since 2018 after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the landmark nuclear deal, which aimed to lift sanctions on Tehran in exchange for limits on the country’s uranium enrichment.
There have been multiple reports of the Iranian navy seizing and eventually releasing surface drones operated by the 5th Fleet in the Red Sea. Tehran also accused the 5th Fleet of blocking international waters and endangering maritime safety.
In response, the Navy confirmed that the two Saildrone Explorers were unmanned and unarmed surface vessels operating in international waters without posing any risk to sea traffic.
After the discord, the U.S. flew a nuclear-capable B-52 Stratofortresses long-distance bombers over the Middle East in an apparent show of force. Iran’s top military commander responded by warning against the deployment of unmanned reconnaissance drones in the Persian Gulf.