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The United States navy has recently successfully tested an autonomous robot used to detect, identify, and destroy undersea mines. The unmanned system allows soldiers to combat the underwater threat of mines with zero risk to human safety.
Although more than a decade behind schedule, the Mine Countermeasures Module has recently passed a critical test. The system is intended to be deployed on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships, in order to help those ships with their mine-hunting missions.
The entire anti-mine system, or the mine warfare package, involves fitting a Littoral Combat Ship with Textron’s Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV). The Combat Ship would then be able to launch and recover up to two of the autonomous vessels. Once the CUSV enters a suspected minefield, the vessel will deploy the AN/AQS-20 pod. As the pod stays tethered to the autonomous boat, it will scan using sonar for suspected mines.
Once a suspected mine has been located, the pod takes a picture of it and the picture is then sent to the human operators on board the Littoral Combat Ship. If the operators decide that the object in the picture is in fact an underwater mine, they can give the order to destroy it.
The CUSV will then launch a Barracuda mine-killing drone into the water. It will then swim towards the mine to await orders. If it is decided to destroy the mine the Barracuda will destroy it using an explosive charge.
Popularmechanics.com mentions that older methods of mine-hunting involved sending in human divers or even marine mammals to inspect and, if necessary, destroy the mines.
In contrast to traditional methods, sending in autonomous machines to combat mines is obviously a much safer alternative. It is also a much quicker alternative since the CUSV can destroy several mines per single deployment.
Although the system is mostly autonomous, humans still have the final say if the suspected object is a mine or not, and if it will be destroyed or not.