Unmanned air vehicles, better known as drones, have been operating for a long time. And those drones have been used in some high-ranking terrorist kills, like the one that took out Anwar al-Awlaki of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.
Other unmanned vehicles are on the ground and are being tested by the Army and Marine Corps.
And the Navy's gotten into the unmanned game as well. In 2014 the service tested small, unmanned boats as a way to prevent a repeat of the 2000 attack on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67). But Rolls Royce is now proposing something that could put the Navy's plans to shame.
A look at an artist's impression of an unmanned ship. (Rolls Royce graphic)
According to a company release, Rolls Royce is developing a 700-ton vessel capable of operating for 100 days unmanned, and it could be a game-changer for navies around the world. This vessel would be about the size of the Nanuchka-class corvette. It would have a range of 3,500 miles and a top speed of more than 25 knots.
What might this vessel be used for? The big mission Rolls Royce is pitching is "coastal patrol and surveillance," logistical support, or even as a means to protect other vessels. This ship would still be very capable for its size, largely because, "[m]any of the habitation systems and accommodation compartments are removed, bringing immediate cost savings and making the vessel smaller."
Artist's impression of an unmanned ship in action. (Rolls Royce graphic)
"The autonomous platforms are likely to cover a range of single role missions, e.g. patrol and surveillance, mine detection or fleet screening, while the larger manned ships will cover the multi-role missions," Rolls Royce adds.
In addition to having on-board sensors, the unmanned vessel could also carry a number of unmanned aerial vehicles. In essence, it is a robotic aircraft carrier for drones. This could make things very interesting at sea.