NATO’s Unmanned Show of Force

photo illust US DoD
An Amphibious Assault Vehicle with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit enters the water aboard Camp Lejeune Oct. 3 to embark on USS New York (LPD 21) in preparation for Exercise Trident Juncture 2018. Events during Trident Juncture will provide the 24th MEU opportunities to exercise their expeditionary capabilities in unique environments in support of partner nations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Robert Durham)

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New maritime unmanned systems technologies can be a game-changer in countering multiple threats in the maritime domain. A NATO release says “using Maritime Unmanned Vehicles can help effectively counter new submarines armed with more powerful weapons. They can also prevent military personnel from moving into risky situations in countering threats like sea mines.”
NATO has recently held an exercise with its robot ships and aircraft off the Atlantic coast of Portugal. The systems include sensors for hunting submarines, mines and ships, fused together in a surveillance network unrivaled in maritime history.
Several nations along with the NATO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation have gathered “dozens of unmanned underwater, surface and air vehicles” for Exercise REP, according to a NATO news release.
About 800 service members and civilians from the Portuguese Navy, as well as Belgium, Italy, Turkey, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States, participated in the exercise.
The exercise follows up on a July 2018 agreement between the allies to work together to develop unmanned maritime systems, a goal that experts say is primarily aimed at increasing pressure on Russian submarines operating in the region.
Jorge Benitez, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said: “This new multinational cooperation in undersea drones is the most recent example that NATO is taking the Russian threat in the north Atlantic much more seriously than it has in the past quarter century”.
A release announcing the exercise acknowledged as much, saying that submarines armed with more powerful weapons, such as Russia’s Kalibr cruise missile, pose a significant threat.
The U.S. military believes that since surface combatants and submarines armed with expensive sonar arrays are too few and far between to monitor all the world’s chokepoints, it is developing cheaper systems it can deploy to increase numbers and cast a wider netת according to