Australia wants navy boats with lots of weapons, but no crew. Will they run afoul of international law?

Fri, 22 Mar 2024 12:02:08 +1100

Andrew Pam <xanni [at]>

Andrew Pam

"The Australian Navy is set to be transformed. On top of existing plans for
nuclear submarines, the government yesterday announced a scheme for an
“enhanced lethality surface combatant fleet” including six new “optionally
crewed” vessels.

The advantages of these vessels, which can operate with or without a crew, are
clear. They can operate for longer, with more stealth, and allow military
personnel to avoid hostile environments.

Simple remote-controlled craft have been used since at least the 1920s, but
increasingly sophisticated uncrewed vessels are becoming more common. Ukraine
has used small uncrewed boats against Russian targets in the Black Sea, the
United States plans to build a swarm of sea drones to protect Taiwan, and China
is developing its own devices.

However, it is so far unclear how these vessels fit within existing
international law. Unless their legal status becomes more clear, it may
increase the risk of conflict with potentially serious consequences."

       *** Xanni ***
--               Andrew Pam                 Chief Scientist, Xanadu            Partner, Glass Wings               Manager, Serious Cybernetics

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