Subs Spawning Subs: What If Submarines Motherships Launched Underwater Drones

Robert Farley

Key point: Drones are the future of warfare and America is racing to build them. Washington's latest idea is to have a drone-carrying submarine.

Imagine a future in which nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) can deploy undersea drones (UUVs) to hunt, and possibly kill, enemy subs. The U.S. Navy, at least, is taking steps to make this a reality. What impact could this have? On the one hand, UUVs could shake modern antisubmarine warfare (ASW) to its core, making existing platforms vulnerable or obsolete. On the other hand, the development of UUVs could reinforce existing hierarchies; in contrast to popular understanding, established organizations are often the best at adapting to disruptive military innovations. The future of the U.S. Navy depends to great extent of which of these becomes a reality.

History

In a sense, submarine launched drones have existed for quite some time; even in World War II, navies used pattern following or acoustic homing in order to find their targets. Wire guided torpedoes were introduced in the 1960s, allowing the submarine a measure of control over how the weapon approached its target. These torpedoes are suicidal drones in the same sense as cruise missiles; weapons that can be launched, then directed to their target either through autonomous mechanisms or by user interface.

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