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02/11/23: Video shows a US Navy drone boat firing off its own exploding drone in the Middle East-MSN

The US Navy said it fired live weapons from unmanned surface vehicles, or USVs, during a recent exercise in the Middle East, marking the first time that American drone boats used lethal munitions in the region.

More information:

  • The US Navy said its drone boats fired lethal weaponry for the first time in the Middle East.

  • In a recent exercise, the remotely piloted boats launched explosives at simulated enemy targets.

  • A Navy official said the event is part of a push to advance the capabilities of uncrewed vessels.

During the October 23 exercise — dubbed "Digital Talon" — a Navy task force paired the remotely operated drones with crewed ships to identify and engage simulated hostile forces within international waters around the Arabian Peninsula, US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) said in a statement on Thursday.

The Navy equipped a MARTAC T38 Devil Ray USV, which looks similar to a speedboat, with a Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System — a small, explosive loitering munition. The simulated hostile forces, meanwhile, were represented by a target boat. On multiple occasions during the exercise, the Devil Ray fired the weapon at the target and "successfully scored direct hits each time," NAVCENT said.

Footage of one of the engagements shows Navy personnel operating the drone boat in the open waters. The USV then fires one of the munitions, which includes a first-person view of its trajectory into the simulated target, causing it to detonate on impact.

Navy officials said the exercise was designed to advance the lethality and combat potential of drone boats, and future events could broaden the arsenal of these unmanned systems.

"We are focused on the operational application of new, cutting-edge unmanned systems and artificial intelligence technologies," said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, NAVCENT commander. "During Digital Talon, we took a significant step forward and advanced our capability to the 'next level' beyond just maritime domain awareness."

"We have proven these unmanned platforms can enhance fleet lethality," he added. "In doing so, we are strengthening regional maritime security and enhancing deterrence against malign activity."

Digital Talon marked the second time since September that the Navy has broken ground with its drone boat capabilities in Middle Eastern waters.

A few weeks ago, several USVs — including the Devil Day — were sent to track and monitor vessels belonging to Iran's two maritime forces, which consists of its regular navy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN). The operation took place in and around the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway located between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf that's considered to be one of the world's most important oil chokepoints.

The Navy has looked to a fleet of drone boats both above and below the surface to help surveil and patrol waters around the Middle East, where Iran has constantly been accused of harassing foreign military ships and commercial vessels. In some cases, Tehran's forces have tried — and even successfully managed — to abduct American USVs, though not without response.

US officials frequently denounce and criticize Iranian harassment incidents as malign activity. Beyond drone boats, the Pentagon has taken other measures in recent months to boost deterrence in the region like dispatching an assortment of fighter jets and warships to the area.

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