Unmanned underwater vehicle

Unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), sometimes known as underwater drones,[1] are any vehicles that are able to operate underwater without a human occupant. These vehicles may be divided into two categories, remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs), which are controlled by a remote human operator, and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), which operate independently of direct human input. The latter category would constitute a kind of robot.


The navies of multiple countries, including the US, UK, France and Russia, are currently creating unmanned vehicles to be used in oceanic warfare to discover and terminate underwater mines. For instance, the REMUS is a three-foot long robot used to clear mines in one square mile within 16 hours.[2] This is much more efficient, as a team of human divers would need upwards of 21 days to perform the same task. In addition to UUVs with the purpose of clearing out mines, autonomous submarines began to be prototyped as of 2008.[3] Especially autonomous submarines face much of the same ethical issues as other unmanned weapons.[3] Other applications include ship hull inspection (Bluefin[4]), nuclear reactor decontamination, exploration, and mining/drilling,


Unlike other forms of unmanned vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles can have difficulties communicating underwater. This is due to a combination of the water distorting transmissions, as well as the multitude of obstacles that the robot must maintain an awareness of. The robot's ability to communicate in real-time is extremely hindered during submerged operations. Moreover, as of 2012, their ability to operate for long periods of time is hindered by the absence of an adequate power source that is safe to be used in such close proximity with water. The US Navy does say, that by 2017, they expect to have solved this issue and that they plan to have a drone capable of staying out at sea for up to 70 days at a time.[3] Subsequently, the US Navy is also concerned with developing a UUV that is capable of accomplishing more than one task. In essence, rather than having 10 separate UUV's for 10 separate missions, they would prefer to have one UUV capable of accomplishing all 10 missions. Lastly, as of 2012, the US Navy is also investigating a more efficient external weapons platform.

2016 incident

On December 16, 2016, a Chinese warship seized an underwater drone that was in the process of being retrieved by the U.S. Navy ship USNS Bowditch. A day later, the Chinese Defense Ministry said it will return the drone to the United States. The Pentagon confirmed that and says the drone, used for gathering weather and temperature data, is not armed.[5] The drone was returned several days later.[6]


  • Singer, P. (2009a). Military robots and the laws of war [Electronic version]. The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society, 23, 25-45.
  • Singer, P. (2009b). Wired for war: The robotics revolution and conflict in the 21st century. New York: Penguin Group.
  1. News, A. B. C. (27 October 2011). "Spies Target Underwater Drone Fleet: Report". ABC News. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  2. Carafano, J., & Gudgel, A. (2007). The Pentagon’s robots: Arming the future [Electronic version]. Backgrounder 2093, 1-6.
  3. 1 2 3 Lin, P., Bekey, G., & Abney, K. (2008). Autonomous Military Robotics: Risk, Ethics, and Design. Electronic version
  4. "General Dynamics Showcases Ship Hull Inspection AUV | Unmanned Systems Technology". Unmanned Systems Technology. 2016-09-24. Retrieved 2017-02-14.
  5. Blanchard, Ben. "China to return seized U.S. drone, says Washington 'hyping up'..." reuters.com. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  6. CNN, Steven Jiang and Kevin Bohn. "China returns seized US underwater drone". CNN. Retrieved 2017-03-13.
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