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Updated 6:02 PM EDT, Wed, Apr 01, 2020

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US Navy Sea Hunter Anti-Submarine Robot Warship Elicits Fear and Loathing from China

Submarine killer

(Photo : US Navy) Sea Hunter, the robot warship built to destroy subs.

Sea Hunter, a new U.S. Navy autonomous and unmanned surface warship designed to track and destroy Chinese submarines, is being viewed with a mixture of fear and respect by Chinese military analysts.

Described by one Chinese analyst as a "severe threat" to China's submarine force, Sea Hunter has also surprised the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) because of the unexpected speed of its development and deployment.

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A Chinese think tank believes Sea Hunter will ignite a "revolution in the domain of naval strategy" and force China to develop methods to counter this trimaran drone.

There is also concern among PLAN that Sea Hunter will be used to conduct persistent 24 hour monitoring of the underwater routes to and from Chinese submarine bases, particularly the huge underground submarine base at Hainan Island on the South China Sea, which is where all of China's ballistic nuclear missile submarines are based.

Sea Hunter will enter U.S. Navy service in 2018 following two years of exhaustive tests that will validate the faith the US Navy has placed in this robot developed by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA.

Sea Hunter, the world's first robot warship, is capable of patrolling 10,000 nautical miles of ocean without a human crew. It's expected to enter service with the United States Third Fleet once it becomes operational.

This fleet, which can call on four Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, has an area of responsibility of 50 million square miles consisting of the eastern and northern Pacific Ocean areas, including the Bering Sea, Alaska, the Aleutian Islands and a sector of the Arctic.

In the event of war, this fleet's primary wartime mission is the defense of the western sea approaches to the United States, including Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. It can also cooperate with the United States Seventh Fleet operating in Asia.

"You can imagine anti-submarine warfare pickets. You can imagine anti-submarine warfare wolf packs. You can imagine mine warfare flotillas. You can imagine distributed anti-surface warfare action groups ... and you might be able to put a six-pack or a four-pack of missiles on it," said former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work.

"Now imagine 50 of these warships ... operating together under the hands of a flotilla commander. This is really something," he added.

Work believes that when the US Navy begins using the Sea Hunter-class warships, it will "be a Navy unlike any Navy in history, (with) a human-machine collaborative battle fleet that will confound our enemies."

The sleek 40 meter long trimaran with the contours of a Formula 1 racing car was built to hunt down and destroy submarines, specifically the stealthy diesel electric submarines like those operated by the Chinese and the Russians that comprise most of their submarine fleets.

Once locked onto a submarine target, the robot can either destroy it immediately with its missiles or dog it for weeks until the submarine is forced to surface to recharge its batteries.

Sea Hunter is an autonomous unmanned surface vehicle (a naval drone) launched and christened in 2016 as part of the DARPA Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program. 

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