The Inescapable Net: Unmanned Systems in Anti-Submarine Warfare

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The first of BASIC's 2016 Parliamentary Briefing series relating to the Trident debate outlines the state of drone technology today relevant to anti-submarine warfare. Author David Hambling uses open sources to explore how small drone technology will impact the future detection and tracking of submarines. The availability in large numbers of low cost unmanned platforms, known as unmanned vehicles or drones, equipped with sophisticated sensors and able to operate in swarms, is likely to be highly disruptive to naval operations over the next decade, particularly those dependent upon stealth.

And of course, this is the known state of technology today. We can expect military technology developed in the US, Russia and China to be a good deal more advanced than that described in the briefing. One of the points made in the briefing is that this technology is developing fast, and because of the modular nature of the systems involved, the relatively cheap and expendable platforms, and the software development, along with exponential expansion in computer power, the evidence strongly suggests that in the battle between ASW and submarine stealth, the former is set to make significant strides in the near future - whatever stealth technologies are developed for the Successor class.

The Trident debate is often framed as a question of strategy when facing adversaries: do we take a robust and assertive approach that faces them down, or do we prioritise international collaboration in climbing down the nuclear ladder? But this masks other critical questions, not least whether the nuclear postures we choose actually work as intended (in deterring aggression). BASIC has been leading in asking the challenging questions over emerging technologies that could in the not-too distant future render the oceans effectively transparent and a submarine-based deterrent irrelevant before Trident Successor submarines are deployed in the early 2030s.

Click the PDF link below to read the full briefing.

The full Parliamentary briefing series includes:

1) The Inescapable Net: Unmanned Systems in Anti-Submarine Warfare

2) A Primer on Trident's Cyber Vulnerabilities

3) CASD: Options for Trident patrolling

4) New strategies for UK leadership on multilateral nuclear disarmament

5) UK Role in the World


This publication was submitted as evidence to the Labour Party's National Policy Forum. 


(Photo: Liquid Robotics)

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About the author(s)...
  • David Hambling is a freelance journalist and author, with a focus on evolving military technologies. He writes for New Scientist, WIRED, the Guardian, the Economist and various other publications. His recent book, Swarm Troopers (2015), charts the revolutionary impact the recent emergence of cutting edge drones and related technologies is having on outcomes on the battlefield.
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