Israel and the United States are both rushing to develop and deploy
Unmanned surface vessels (USVs). The technology for these small (10-30 foot
long) boats has been around for over a decade. USVs operate much like UAVs, but
on water. The advantages of having fewer sailors in harms way has an obvious
appeal. The navy has found a number of jobs for USVs. These include;
Mine clearing. Actually, Unmanned underwater vessels (UUVs) have been doing
this for several decades, but USVs can tow sensors that look for mines. The
USVs are small and light enough so that they do not trigger naval mines. Once a
mine has been spotted (usually sitting on the bottom), a UUV is sent down to
confirm that, and leave an explosive charge to destroy the mines.
Searching for submarines. Again, USVs can carry, or tow, sensors. While
helicopters have been popular for anti-submarine (ASW) work, USVs are a lot
cheaper and you can afford to have more of them out there. Moreover, it's
easier to have ASW USVs automated (operating largely on their own.) This is
nothing new. A major ASW innovation during World War II was mathematically
developed search patterns for going after enemy subs. These software controlled
USVs would be monitored by a sailor on its mother ship, but otherwise would
carry out its search until it found something, or had to return to
Security. Watching out for suicide boats, or ship traffic in general, is
something USVs are well suited for. This is what Israel is interested in, as
they are constantly exposed to seaborne terrorist attacks. Again, one ship can
deploy and control a dozen or more USVs for this kind of security work. USVs
are considered a potential boost to increasing security at U.S. ports.
Reconnaissance. Just collecting information is easier using USVs. You don't
expose any sailors to danger, and the small USVs are much less likely to be
detected by a hostile force you are checking out. USVs can carry a lot of the
lightweight and powerful sensors available today, to collect photos, sonar data
and electronic intercepts.
the next few years, the United States and Israel, and possibly other nations as
well, will be putting USVs into service. These will be vessels that have
already been in development, including some field testing, for several years.
American destroyers, frigates and LCS ships will deploy USVs, as will the U.S.
Navy's new naval infantry force (which also uses small boats for riverine and
coastal combat operations.) USVs can also be delivered by air, or submarine.