Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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Drones are the Future of Undersea Warfare in the US Navy

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(Photo : US Navy) AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma drone being hand launched from a US Navy warship.

The U.S. Navy's attack submarines that will prowl the undersea battlefields of the future will have a lot of help from a fleet of "little friends" -- autonomous underwater drones that allow for both defense and attack at far longer ranges than are currently possible.

Like the planned sixth generation fighters of the U.S. Air Force that might each command a flight of unmanned aerial vehicles, the next generation U.S. subs will command their own small squadron of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) that will both locate the enemy and hunt it to destruction.

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The navy is developing a drone strategy in which multiple undersea drones will conduct intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR); search for underwater mines and locate and attack targets while being networked together.

The navy is also looking at what they call "Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicles" (LDUUVs) to identify enemy submarines or surface warships at distances at very long range. Their numbers and networking will allow their human controllers faster and more efficient access to key information.

This information advantage will give battle commanders more time to make critical decisions. It'll be like being able to look one minute into the future ahead of your opponent.

Combined with satellite technology, these undersea drones (especially the smaller ones that better evade detection) will transmit information back to warships in near real time.

These technological advantages permit far deeper reconnaissance missions into enemy territory and will also negate anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) defenses such as those being built by Russia in the Baltic Sea and China in the South China Sea.

There's also an aerial drone component to this UUV network. The navy is currently arming more of its warships with an improved version of the AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma, a small, battery powered, hand-launched UAV.

This drone's primary mission is surveillance and intelligence gathering using an electro-optical and infrared camera beyond the horizon. Last August, the navy tested and deployed the RQ-20B Puma aboard more Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers.

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