(From National Interest)
By James Hasik
The prototype boat in DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program, the Sea Hunter, is beginning sea trials. Sailing last week from Portland to San Diego, she’ll undergo two years of testing to determine whether an unmanned ship under “sparse human control” can trail Iranian, Russian, or Chinese diesel submarines exiting port. If she works, she’ll relieve the Navy’s very capable-but-expensive destroyers of that duty. She may also seriously change the way war at sea would be fought.
Andrew Davies of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute wrote in February that what navies today call frigates are often bigger than cruisers, or what they once called cruisers. Alastair Cooper of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve followed this month with an essay insisting that the ships’ functions have remained the same, but the size required to achieve those functions has increased. Perhaps we should call that the iPhone 6S argument; inexorable growth isn’t always better. What’s clear is that the bigger ships—Australian, American, or otherwise—are expensive to buy and expensive to operate. According to the US Congressional Research Service, a new destroyer of the Arleigh Burke class costs about $1.7 billion to procure. Operating and support costs are harder to discern, as the Navy Department doesn’t published audited accounts. But just paying salaries and benefits (recently estimated by the Reserve Forces Policy Board as $108,000 annually) to each crew of 323 costs about $95,000 per day. Fuel and repairs add a lot more. Read more