Lonely Child: China's Sea Hunter USV Copy Going Nowhere?
The U.S. Navy recently took delivery of its second mid-sized USV (Uncrewed Surface Vessel). The Seahawk is similar to the existing Sea Hunter design, but includes many improvements. Meanwhile in China, a remarkably similar vessel is sitting outside a shipyard.
This unidentified vessel is believed to be a mid-size USV (Uncrewed Surface Vessel). It closely resembles the U.S. Navy's Sea Hunter USV, in both size and form. It was first reported in September 2020 but satellite evidence suggests that it was launched before August 30, 2019.
Recent satellite imagery from Airbus (via Shadowbreak Intl.) appears to show the vessel still at the site where it was built; Tongfangjiang New Shipyard in Jiangxi Province.
This implies that it has not been trialed by the Chinese Navy, or if it was, has not been successful.
This candid photo appeared om Chinese social media in September 2020
It is unclear if its intended role is the same as the U.S. Navy type. Sea Hunter was buyilt in answer to the ASW Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program started by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in the 2010. The medium-sized USV was launched in 2016, three years before the Chinese copy. The ACTUV concept is for an unmanned vessel optimized to robustly track quiet diesel electric submarines. Basically once the submarine has been detected, the USV follows it closely.
Due to their higher speed, nuclear-powered submarines could escape the close trail of the USV. So the U.S. Navy’s submarine should be largely immune from a platform like this. But other countries in China’s area of interest, such as Japan, Australia and India, all have diesel-electric submarines.
The apparent lack of Chinese Navy interest suggests that this vessel was a commercial undertaking. They were possibly speculating for Navy interest, positions in future programs or even exports.
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A Possible New Large USV?
The vessel seen next to the 'Sea Hunter' appears to be a catamaran with a faceted superstructure in the extreme bow. While unconfirmed, this is reminiscent of a configuration being trialed by several countries for USVs. The layout allows for the largest practical deck at the back. China has already been experimenting with USVs using this general layout, only on a smaller scale:
A smaller Chinese USV, possibly the M40P, with a similar layout.
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