Military Review

Unmanned surface ships: the threat from the West


Fleet in the laggards

One of the main trends in the modernization of the armed forces of the leading countries of the world is equipping them with an increasing number of different types of unmanned and remotely controlled equipment.

This primarily concerns aviation: unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have already become an integral part of the air forces (Air Forces) of technologically developed countries, and the list of tasks they solve is constantly expanding. The absolute leader in this direction is the United States, followed by Israel, China, Turkey and many other countries are actively building up their UAV fleet. Recently, there have been positive trends in equipping UAVs and the Russian Air Force.

UAVs already make up a significant part of the air forces of the leading countries of the world

Ground-based robotic systems are also slowly but surely developing, although their number is not yet comparable to the number of UAVs. Originally intended for mine clearance and reconnaissance, they are increasingly equipped with various types of weapons for direct combat. Russia in this direction can be considered one of the leaders, if not in the proliferation of ground-based robotic systems in the troops, then in the number of available developments.

Russian combat robot "Marker"

With sea / ocean unmanned surface ships (BENK) and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), everything is more complicated. The aircraft is operated by 1-3 people, and they do not carry out maintenance, it is carried out at the airport by special personnel, and UAVs are serviced in the same way.

With ground combat equipment, everything is more complicated. Let us recall the disputes between supporters and opponents of the introduction of automatic loaders in Tanks: One of the arguments "against" is that it is much easier for four (with a loader) to service a tank than three.

A ship or submarine, both due to its size and due to the possibility of being on a long autonomous campaign, requires the presence of a significant crew for its maintenance. Since it is still unrealistic to make an unmanned destroyer capable of staying at sea for months without human service, the development of marine "drones" comes from small ships - unmanned boats (BEC) capable of operating near the coast or carrier.

Russian unmanned boat Iskatel, developed by Aviation and Marine Electronics and Design Bureau Luch (left), and an experimental prototype of an autonomous radio-controlled boat with side-scan sonar Kalan from Tethys Pro (right)

Nevertheless, in the technically most developed countries of the world, work is underway to create a BENK of both increased displacement and increased battery life.


The US Navy is working with the defense agency DARPA to develop the No Marines Required Ship (NOMARS) BANK.

Render of BANK NOMARS, intended for reconnaissance and missile strikes

However, much closer to serial production is the American BANK Sea Hunter, realized according to the trimaran scheme. BANK Sea Hunter was developed by Leidos with the support of DARPA. First of all, it is designed to combat submarines at a depth of 400 meters, as well as to track surface ships and conduct electronic warfare (EW).

The dimensions of the BANK Sea Hunter are 40 meters long and 12,2 meters wide, the width of the central hull is 3,35 meters, and a displacement of 145 tons. The maximum speed is 27 knots, at a speed of 21 knots, BANK Sea Hunter can operate in rough seas of six points, at a lower speed up to seven points. BANK Sea Hunter will be able to autonomously perform combat missions for three months, passing during this time 13 miles (391 km) at a speed of 24 knots or 800 miles (12 km) at 23 knots.

BANK Sea Hunter

BENK Sea Hunter is equipped with an MS3 sonar station, capable of detecting submarines, torpedoes, and unmanned underwater vehicles in active and passive modes. There is also a magnetometer on board. The estimated range of detection of submarines is about 10 miles at a speed of 5-7 knots of the Sea Hunter BENK.

Armament on the BENK Sea Hunter is currently absent, but it can be installed in the future: it is assumed that Leidos is now developing a more advanced Sea Hunter 2.

According to the US Naval Forces Budget Director Rear Admiral Randy Crites, in the foreseeable future the United States plans to produce large unmanned surface ships with a hull length of about 60-100 meters and a displacement of about 2000 tons.

It is planned to install a significant amount of electronic equipment on promising "large" BENK, the displacement of which is close to the "corvette", including radar and hydroacoustic stations (radar and GAS), optoelectronic sensors, advanced communication facilities, encryption and decryption equipment, on-board computers for processing incoming data and decision making. It is planned to equip such ships with rapid-fire small-caliber automatic cannons, ESSM anti-aircraft guided missiles (SAMs) in vertical launchers Mk 48 and 324-mm anti-submarine torpedo tubes. It is also planned to equip BENK with an unmanned helicopter for reconnaissance.

The high seas support ship RiverHawk OSV 60 with a displacement of 1400 tons is considered as the basis for promising BENK

You can also mention the BENK projects presented by Austal USA in 2019. The projects presented include medium and large BENK, equipped with a variety of reconnaissance and weapons.

Austal medium-sized BANK concept in catamaran and trimaran configuration

Austal large BANK concept launching a rocket


In addition to the United States, other countries are actively developing unmanned ships. In particular, you can recall the British experimental modular PANC of the Rolls-Royce company. An unmanned ship with a length of 60 meters and a displacement of 700 tons should be equipped with a 4 MW diesel generator power plant and a power plant with an electric motor of 1,5 MW power, rudder propellers and bow thrusters. The speed of the British BENK will be about 25 knots, the maximum cruising range at an economic speed will be 3500 nautical miles with the ship's autonomy up to 100 days.

The modular platform provides for the completion of the British BENK with a variety of equipment and weapons, ensuring the solution of highly specialized tasks: reconnaissance, electronic warfare, striking, etc.

Unmanned surface ships: the threat from the West

Rolls-Royce modular PANC concepts

Another British company, BMT, is developing the BANK pentamaran, capable of high speed and operation in almost any weather. Pentamaran is a ship with five parallel hulls connected in the upper part; it was developed back in the USSR on the Polimaran-PPR platform (spatial floating lattice). The advantages of the pentamaran are the highest stability (rollover resistance is maintained even with a roll of 70% -80%) and low resistance, which allows a high speed of movement.

BMT unmanned pentamaran

Among the stated tasks of BMT BENK are patrolling, reconnaissance, surveillance, hydrographic research and search and rescue operations.

Also, Western companies are developing civilian unmanned ships. The Norwegian company Yara International, together with the Kongsberg Grupp, plans to launch in the near future an unmanned cargo ship Yara Birkeland with an electric propulsion system, capable of transporting 100-150 containers. The cost of the promising unmanned transport ship Yara International will be about $ 25 million, which is three times more than the cost of a conventional vessel of this class, however, due to the savings on fuel and crew, it will be 90% more economical than the ships of this class currently in operation, which will quickly recoup the initial investment ...

Concepts of unmanned transport vessels of the Norwegian company Yara International (left) and British Rolls-Royce (right)

The Norwegian project of the Yara Birkeland and similar projects of cargo ships of the Rolls-Royce company indicate the technical capabilities for the construction of unmanned ocean-class vessels with the appropriate autonomy, which can serve as the basis for the construction of warships. For example, unmanned supply ships or arsenal ships.

Israel - a negative experience

Strictly speaking, geographically Israel is not the West, but technically, politically and militarily, Israel is an integral member of the coalition of Western countries.

The Israeli Navy has studied the use of unmanned boats since the early 2000s, but in 2020 it was reported that the Israeli Navy decided to terminate the BEZ operation program due to the negative experience of their use, including low power-to-weight ratio, low survivability due to system failures that there is no one to repair, as well as the complexity of managing the BEC on the high seas At the same time, it is noted that unmanned boats show themselves well as a means to combat submarines, as well as for mine action.

The specificity of the Israeli Navy is that they did not purchase BECs, but rented them from manufacturing companies, therefore, in order to curtail the program of using BECs, it is enough for them not to renew their lease.

Unmanned boat Protector of the Israeli defense company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems

It can be assumed that the reasons for the negative perception of the BEC of the Israeli Navy are the insufficient development of technical solutions, which does not allow to ensure sufficient reliability of the equipment, as well as the small displacement of the BEC, which does not provide them with sufficient seaworthiness.


Along with the development of UAVs and ground-based robotic combat equipment, the creation of unmanned ships and boats is becoming one of the leading trends in the development of the Navy in Western countries. At the moment, the development of BEC and BENK lags significantly behind the creation of UAVs: there are fewer projects implemented, the degree of their involvement in the activities of the armed forces is much lower. However, all this can quickly change if technologies are developed and truly effective solutions appear.

Russia has significantly lagged behind the leading countries in the development of UAVs, only recently there have been advances in reducing this gap. It is necessary to carefully study foreign experience and prevent the occurrence of such a situation during navy.

In the following articles, we will consider BENK, as well as unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) from other countries.
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  1. OgnennyiKotik
    OgnennyiKotik 30 September 2020 18: 19
    Recently, the United States ordered the development of a promising Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel (MUSV). 40 of them are planned for purchase.
    1. Temples
      Temples 30 September 2020 19: 12
      The cost of the promising unmanned transport ship Yara International will be about $ 25 million, which is three times more than the cost of a conventional ship of this class, but due to savings on fuel and crew, it will be 90% more economical than the ships of this class currently operating, which will quickly recoup the initial investment ...

      What kind of rubbish is this written?
      What kind of crews are there? Do they eat diesel fuel in hundreds of tons, or do they only eat black caviar?
      How, How, How, How, How, How, How, How, ?????? can you save 90 percent?
      On what?

      The dust on the ship weighs more than the entire crew.
      We are talking about commercial vehicles where there has never been a large crew.

      And the price of this container ship is simply "off scale" laughing fellow
      25 million fellow fellow fellow wassat

      And the author estimates a container ship with a crew three times cheaper - 8,34 million dollars.

      Damn, diesel fuel for refueling it will cost more.

      What the hell are you smoking? request laughing
      1. ycuce234-san
        ycuce234-san 1 October 2020 16: 56
        The dust on the ship weighs more than the entire crew.

        Legally, it is probably possible not to apply many safety measures for people, not to provide and not maintain auxiliary mechanisms and devices that are necessary only for people on board - ventilation, lighting, refuse to run through safe places and areas of navigation within the reach of rescue services and scratch straight across the ocean (planes over the ocean often do not fly directly, but at a certain distance from the coast - in case of accidents). You can also design much weaker and more dangerous hulls, install more economical engines with which the speeds are much lower and the duration of the voyage can be many months, drift for months in favorable currents, etc.
      2. TechPriest
        TechPriest 9 November 2020 12: 33
        Calculate the salaries of the crew - the sailors receive quite a lot of money. Plus insurance. Well, yes, you don't need to have a catering unit, in principle, or create any conditions on the ship.
        As for the price of the ship - right now the second-hand project Volganeft 558 tanker can be purchased for 35 million. Rubles.
    2. Dimon Dimonov_2
      Dimon Dimonov_2 3 November 2020 11: 48
      Yes, in general, gorgeous targets ... as it enters the territorial waters, so you can work out with Daggers and naval artillery ... People will not suffer ... and there are technical errors ... = o)
  2. FIR FIR
    FIR FIR 30 September 2020 18: 24
    It is necessary to carefully study foreign experience and prevent the occurrence of a similar situation in the fleet.

    With conventional weapons parked, shifts to the right, and underfunded ...
    What kind of "Star Wars" are there ...
  3. NEXUS
    NEXUS 30 September 2020 18: 49
    Russia has significantly lagged behind the leading countries in the development of UAVs, only recently there have been advances in reducing this gap. It is necessary to carefully study foreign experience and prevent the occurrence of a similar situation in the fleet.

    Quantitatively, it has undoubtedly lagged behind. But look how things were 7 years ago and how they are now.
    Second ... the gap is not so great for a ground robot. But qualitatively, there is generally no lag.
    Now on the maritime topic ... and excuse me, Poseidon is not a drone? In which country have they also created a drone with a nuclear power plant? In fact, Poseidon is a mini-submarine with unlimited cruising range, and at depths in which no combat drone in the world has gone.
    When Poseidon goes into series, I am sure that a whole line of multi-tasking devices will appear on its basis.
    In general, yes, we are still lagging behind. The Hunter has not been adopted, Uranus-9 has not been brought to mind ... but I think that in a few years the lag, not only quantitative, but also qualitative, will be minimized, or even zeroed altogether.
    1. Jacket in stock
      Jacket in stock 1 October 2020 09: 31
      Quote: NEXUS
      Basically, Poseidon is a mini submarine, with unlimited cruising range.

      Poseidon is a kammikaze drone.
      Those. disposable device with one way ticket.
      Accordingly, the requirements for reliability are much simpler.
      1. Sergey_G_M
        Sergey_G_M 1 October 2020 11: 49
        The whole point is GIVE MONEY!
        not very good yet, but you can promote and get money for development! but no more, And then the "evil Russians" will come up with something else! here the main thing is that the money flows where necessary!
  4. Free wind
    Free wind 30 September 2020 18: 51
    Flying Dutchmen.
    1. dauria
      dauria 30 September 2020 23: 47
      Flying Dutchmen.

      International legal norms and rules have not yet been developed for these miracles. So while in neutral waters this is a log lost by someone. On the same rights. ...
  5. Sergey39
    Sergey39 30 September 2020 18: 58
    Russia has lagged behind what? Spends less money on projects that are not being implemented at the moment? This is bad? Hollywood action movies are filming in the United States.
    1. Escobar
      Escobar 30 September 2020 19: 30
      These "Hollywood action films" are used to test new technologies that will be introduced into the fleet in the future. Even if the project is not completed, it will provide a lot of material for further development.
      1. Sergey39
        Sergey39 30 September 2020 20: 28
        What am I talking about? Let, of course, develop. They have a lot of money. When the time is right and we'll connect.
  6. voyaka uh
    voyaka uh 30 September 2020 19: 22
    Actually, in Israel, here's a boat for service.
    There are several of them, and they patrol around Gaza and the coast of Israel.

    It's not a super weapon, but the Navy doesn't seem to complain about it. recourse
    1. A. Privalov
      A. Privalov 30 September 2020 20: 38
      Also, three more such devices have been running in for the second year in order to protect gas fields. The reviews are positive.
    2. Pavel57
      Pavel57 30 September 2020 22: 08
      If the boat gets out of control, it is not a pity to sink it.
  7. Alien From
    Alien From 30 September 2020 19: 34
    An interesting topic was raised by the author, here we catch up, catch up and catch up again.
  8. paco.soto
    paco.soto 30 September 2020 20: 18
    [media = http: //]
    [media = http: //]

    Watch the video with the "hunter" on the go. The text comments that the unmanned option exists as an additional option.
  9. aleks26
    aleks26 30 September 2020 20: 20
    And what can such a small unmanned boat do against the same, but flying drone - kamikaze, of the same Israeli production? And the price is incomparable - loitering ammunition and, say, the same hunter.
    1. voyaka uh
      voyaka uh 30 September 2020 20: 49
      Can’t do anything.
      The boat has a specific task. Get closer to the suspicious ship
      and inspect it with video cameras without endangering people.
      Or attack the enemy's boat, again without endangering people.
  10. Aleks2000
    Aleks2000 30 September 2020 20: 55
    And hurray-smi about 10 years amicably laughing at these unmanned people.

    Do you think they will continue to laugh or start writing about the threat ???
    1. ZEMCH
      ZEMCH 1 October 2020 14: 10
      Today I read in the news that a bill on the regulation of unmanned vessels in Russia has been submitted to the State Duma.
      Here "Kronstadt" is engaged in this, and we, as always, go our own way))) Optionally, any ship is ready to be unmanned
  11. Petrol cutter
    Petrol cutter 30 September 2020 21: 05
    Damn it, gentlemen. what
    To a certain extent, ships / boats without a crew, this is of course good.
    But in theory. In theory, it's all beautiful.
    On practice... what
    I immediately have a bunch of questions.
    For example, your diesel engine has stalled. It did not break, but it stalled. Splashes there, for example, got into the air intake, or even some oversized. Who will lead him stupidly?
    The fuel pipe is leaking, the gasket is leaking ...
    Here's a fire in your car! You used a volumetric fire extinguishing machine gun, presumably, but the ship remained a useless tin can.
    I'm not talking about probably not the dumbest enemy. Which will take care of the electronic jamming systems.
    And again, the ship will remain uncontrollable cans, with which you can do whatever you want ...
    There are still enough questions like this.
    The sea is the sea. Here, with the crew, they fight / drown in vain ...
    1. Jacket in stock
      Jacket in stock 1 October 2020 09: 28
      All questions can be repeated about ground and flying drones.
  12. Jacket in stock
    Jacket in stock 1 October 2020 09: 38
    Why are drones so proliferating in the air?
    Because they are NOT drones. They are remotely piloted vehicles.
    1. Petrol cutter
      Petrol cutter 1 October 2020 21: 17
      Although I didn't want to get involved in polemic battles ...
      But in the air (and even more so on the ground) there are much less problems with operating conditions. Let's call it that.
      It is not interesting to discuss the earth in general in this context.
      In the air, again ... What is the autonomy of an ordinary / average drone? Most, as I understand it, are disposable, the rest took off / looked / sat down.
      If a ship went out to sea, then for several weeks / months. It is desirable that he generally be there continuously and always.
      These are a little different categories of things.
  13. Evgeny Seleznev
    Evgeny Seleznev 29 October 2020 14: 56
    A good idea with the option to search and destroy submarines. Budgetary, long-range capability and greater water area coverage. Working alone, searching in a team with a BEC and / or an anti-submarine defense ship. And sooner or later, the BEC will go into service with many countries. It would not be late here as with a UAV.