(Noted News) — The US navy is developing large underwater drones called “Snakeheads” designed to scour the oceans gathering intelligence on its enemies. Technically called Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (LDUUVs), Snakeheads are thought to be an important pillar in the electronic nature of the future of war.
The navy released an official statement on the Snakeheads, referring to them as “a long-endurance, multi-mission UUV, deployed from submarine large open interfaces, with the capability to deploy reconfigurable payloads. It is the largest UUV intended for hosting and deployment from submarines, and has been designated a Maritime Accelerated Acquisition.”
Private contractors are expected to compete for deals to start building them for the navy in the first half of this year.
So far with the purpose of the Snakeheads being intelligence gathering, it’s unclear yet if it will have any combat abilities whatsoever. However, the Navy is also developing underwater drones able to independently destroy things.
In budget documents, the Navy refers to their new underwater killers as CLAWS, but the details of how they work remain secretive, other than the fact that they will “increase mission areas into kinetic effects,” presumably meaning “they can blow stuff up.”
The development of autonomous killing machines has some human rights advocates less than pleased, based on a total lack of accountability if and when a combat drone makes a mistake.
Sensing the inevitability of this problem arising as the technology develops, an NGO called Stop Killer Robots formed back in 2013, wanting to lobby for an end to this type of weaponry and military tactic. Their original campaign statement from 2013 said:
“The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots believes that humans should not delegate the responsibility of making lethal decisions to machines. It has multiple moral, legal, technical, and policy concerns with the prospect of fully autonomous weapons.”
Stop Killer Robots calls for “a pre-emptive and comprehensive ban on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons” through an “international treaty.”
Another group called Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom has denounced armed drones as a travesty to human rights.
“[Autonomous lethal drones] are very concerning. Attacks with armed drones have led to a growing number of civilian deaths as well as the extrajudicial killing of suspected militants.
By referring to national security and the fight against terrorists, states renounce all responsibility for these killings, which creates a climate of impunity. This has raised questions about violations of international humanitarian law and the human right to life.
The use of armed drones has also created a climate of fear in affected communities caused by the indiscriminate and disproportionate drone strikes. The mere presence of drones has negatively impacted broader human rights, such as freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, access to education, and assistance to victims of drone strikes.”
Unfortunately, human rights groups saying things that sound logical are not a match for geopolitical tensions between superpowers, and will especially be no match for the tensions between China and the US, particularly in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is, officially, a shared ocean space between a collection of all the surrounding nations under UN agreement. However, since about 2015, the Chinese government has been going ahead and building manmade islands with landing strips, military bases, and anti-aircraft missiles all over them, in an obvious attempt to take over the very critical trade routes which host some of the largest supply chains in the world.
The UN estimates that a third of all maritime shipping goes through the South China Sea, so ostensibly, control of this area means a global hegemony for China, something Washington has been concerned about for a long time.
President Donald Trump’s former chief of staff Steve Bannon, though more or less banished into obscurity, has called multiple times for war in the South China Sea. Though Bannon has little to no authority in Washington anymore, it appears as if the US military is still indeed leaning in this direction.
The island nation of Palau, apparently feeling vulnerable to China’s ambitions in their home sea, has invited the US military to build military bases in and around their nation.
Biden’s administration, though less hawkish than Trump’s, still recognizes China as a threat in many ways, but it’s unclear how military operations will continue under their policies.
Time will tell how much of a role, if any, the US military’s new underwater drones will play in the conflict of the South China Sea.