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The US Navy has been looking at ways to know more about the seas in which it operates, without committing to sending more sailors on patrol. For that purpose, the service has been testing new unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.

The 23-foot-long Saildrone Explorer for autonomous ocean and climate data collection draws electrical power from the sun and propulsive power from the wind. Under sail power, the drone travels between 2 and 7 mph. These vehicles can sail for long distances and durations, for up to 12 months on a mission before it needs to come ashore for maintenance. 

The Saildrones can record above-the-surface video and use machine learning algorithms to detect targets. This is one of the main features the Navy is interested in. They can also carry sensors for wind speed and direction, for air temperature and humidity, for measuring the salinity and magnetic field of the ocean surface, and even for detecting fish biomass and mammal presence under the surface. In November, the Navy announced that it would base these Saildrones out of Jordan’s naval base in Aqaba, on the Red Sea.

In the Persian Gulf, the US Navy’s 5th fleet experimented with MANTAS robot boats. With both fully electric and diesel/electric hybrid options, the MANTAS robot catamarans are sensor platforms designed to discover danger and move quickly. 

MANTAS can carry a range of sensors, from camera pods to hydroacoustic systems, allowing the vessels to look for objects and action in the sky, on the surface of the water, and under the sea. In the tests with the US Navy, the vessels mainly followed autonomous directions for monitoring, according to popsci.com.