China launched the world’s first seaborne drone carrier last week that is capable of operating on its own. The 290-foot ship will carry, launch, recover, and coordinate the actions of more than 50 other autonomous aerial, surface, and underground vehicles.
Named Zhu Hai Yun, the construction of the vessel in Guangzhou by the Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard, a subsidiary of China’s largest shipbuilding company, the China State Shipbuilding Corporation, began in July 2021.
It is the first of its kind, a self-contained autonomous platform that can be controlled remotely and navigated autonomously in open water. The drone carrier will be a powerful tool for the nation to carry out marine scientific research and observations.
The smart unmanned system mothership is 88.5 meters long, 14 meters wide, and 6.1 meters deep, with a design draft of 3.7 meters. Weighing 2000 tonnes, the seaborn drone carrier can travel at speeds of 13 knots (24 km/h) and has a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h). The ship can deploy its own boats, subs, and aircraft, communicate with them, and run coordinated missions, including conducting task-oriented adaptive networking to achieve three-dimensional views of specific targets.
The Zhu Hai Yun has a spacious deck, which can carry dozens of air, sea, and submersible unmanned systems equipped with different observation instruments. These systems can be deployed in batches in the target sea area and carry out task-oriented adaptive networking to achieve a three-dimensional view of specific targets.
With the new launch, China is hoping that artificial intelligence and unmanned operations could enhance its marine supervision capacity at a lower cost and with higher efficiency than manned operations. The drone carrier is expected to be delivered by the end of 2022 after completing sea trials.