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Chinese Researchers Modify U.S. Autonomous-Vessel Design

sea hunter analogue
Chinese social media

Published Jun 9, 2022 6:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

A Chinese shipping magazine has released the clearest photographic evidence yet that the PLA Navy has created a knock-off of the U.S. Navy's Sea Hunter unmanned surface vessel. Except for the shape of its deckhouse, the 200-ton trimaran prototype could easily be mistaken for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's research boat. 

Naval analyst H.I. Sutton first reported the existence of the boat in 2020, when he posted a social media photo of the vessel and satellite imagery for geolocation. At the time, the unnamed prototype was based at a small shipyard on the Yangtze River near Jiujiang, about 450 river miles inland from Shanghai. 

The vessel's trimaran structure - with two shorter amas attached by twin beams to the longer central hull - is clearly a derivative of the Sea Hunter's design, while the inward-sloping deckhouse bears a marked resemblance to the Zumwalt-class destroyer's ziggurat-shaped superstructure. 

According to the Weibo account of China Ocean Shipping Magazine, the prototype completed its first navigation test at sea on June 7. Its specifications are roughly comparable to Sea Hunter's: a speed of more than 20 knots, operational in Sea State 5 or less, and a length of less than 200 feet. It differs in its integration of low-observable (stealth) design, as seen in the shape of its bow and deckhouse. 

Chinese state shipbuilder CSSC is also building a much larger autonomous naval vessel prototype with a similar trimaran form factor, as well the world's first "drone carrier" for deploying AUVs, USVs and UAVs. 

Sea Hunter and its sister vessel Sea Hawk operate out of San Diego under the custody of the U.S. Navy's Unmanned Surface Vessel Division 1. Both prototypes are set to participate in this year's Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) international exercise off Hawaii, the largest of its kind in the world.