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20/02/24: Australia Works Maritime Autonomous Systems

Recently, the Hudson Institute hosted a session looking at how the Australian Navy is approaching the opportunity to incorporate maritime autonomous systems in the fleet.

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In an article by John Grady published by USNI News on February 1, 2024, the session was highlighted.

Numerous forward deployed, unmanned, underwater systems “might be the poor man’s version of the nuclear deterrent,” the director general of warfare innovation for the Royal Australian Navy said Thursday.

Capt. Adam Allicia, speaking at a Hudson Institute online event, said these systems “help us get over those long distances” that figure into any Indo-Pacific operation. The idea, he added, “is to rotate them in and out” to maintain at least a persistent presence for deterrence.

The underwater systems “look like a submarine,” but, because they’re not manned, “you can probably take more risks” in how they are employed. “We can take losses without the loss of human life.”

In assessing their immediate use, Allicia said, “they’re probably small, [so] how do we fight with these systems” as well as manned air and surface platforms and submarines? The immediate answer likely harkens “back to the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s – talking to one another.”

Allicia said the RAN has established a central integrating office for surface, subsurface and air experimentation and exercises to understand the risks and limits. “How we’re going to use these robots together is a challenge.”

“We’re obviously an island nation,” he said. Forward-deployed unmanned systems capable of delivering mass effects in addition to providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data can close “the ocean gap between us and a potential adversary.”

“Reach and persistence [over such] a maritime empire is becoming harder and harder,” Air Commodore Ross Bender, who heads Australia’s air combat capabilities efforts, added. Unmanned systems can make a difference in Canberra’s ability to defend itself and project power in the Indo-Pacific.

Army Brig. Gen. James Davis, who heads Canberra’s joint autonomy efforts, said “autonomy is the only way to bridge the gap in vast geography and population” for Australia to defend itself, particularly on its northern borders. Australia is roughly the size of the lower 48 states and has a population of about 28 million compared to the United States’ 330 million.

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