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U.S. Navy Sets Up New Unmanned-Vessel Division in San Diego

Sea Hunter
Sea Hunter (file image courtesy DARPA)

Published May 18, 2022 12:30 AM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy's San Diego-based unit for high-tech vessel testing, Surface Development Squadron One, has created a new division to house its unmanned-vessel operations. 

The newly-formed Unmanned Surface Vessel Division 1 will take charge of the squadron's two unmanned vessels, the DARPA-developed Sea Hawk and Sea Hunter, as well as two modified commercial crew boats, the Nomad and Ranger. The latter two vessels were developed by the Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office under the Ghost Fleet Overlord program. All four are reportedly headed for the Navy's flagship Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) maneuvers, the largest international naval exercise in the world.

USVDIV One will also receive three additional unmanned vessels this year, officials told the San Diego Union Tribune. 

“USVDIV One will be a catalyst for innovation as we employ unmanned surface capabilities in the Pacific Fleet,” said Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, commander of Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. “The implementation of unmanned systems will increase decision speed and lethality to enhance our warfighting advantage.”

The new USVDIV One is the second unit recently set up to test unmanned systems. U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain has a similar development team assigned to try out small-scale unmanned boats for patrol duty, including proven designs like the Mantas T-12 and the Saildrone. The tests have been successful enough that 5th Fleet has announced plans to create a force of 100 unmanned vessels, primarily for monitoring the maritime movements of Iran and its proxy forces.

Surface Development Squadron One will retain responsibility for the Zumwalt class of guided missile destroyers, which have yet to deploy overseas. The class' high-tech deck guns lack ammunition, and the Navy is making plans to convert them into platforms for its next generation hypersonic missile, Conventional Prompt Strike.