A warship or combatant ship is a naval ship that is built and primarily intended for naval warfare. Usually they belong to the armed forces of a state. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faster and more manoeuvrable than merchant ships. Unlike a merchant ship, which carries cargo, a warship typically carries only weapons, ammunition and supplies for its crew. Warships usually belong to a navy, though they have also been operated by individuals, cooperatives and corporations.
Modern warships are generally divided into seven main categories, which are: aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes, submarines and amphibious assault ships. However, the once distinct roles and appearances of cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and corvettes have blurred. Most vessels have come to be armed with a mix of anti-surface, anti-submarine and anti-aircraft weapons. Another key differentiation between older and modern vessels is that all modern warships are “soft”, without the thick armor and bulging anti-torpedo protection of World War II and older designs
The modern warships have come under threat from the proliferation of high-tech, anti-ship cruise missiles that travel at ever-increasing speeds with greater degrees of sophistication. Although Navy surface ships have a number of means for defending themselves against anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), some observers are concerned about the survivability of Navy surface ships in potential combat situations against adversaries, such as China, that are armed with advanced ASCMs and with ASBMs.
One of the strategy navies are pursuing is to make the warships unmanned to reduce the risk. As the Navy faces more complex threats to its manned ships from Russia and China, the service is moving quickly to field an unmanned “Ghost Fleet” — a new breed of armed unmanned surface combatants will add more sensors and weapons to the current fleet. The U.S. Navy is pursuing a new architecture for its surface and subsurface fleets that gradually reduces dependence on expensive manned platforms for many traditional functions like surveillance, targeting, electronic warfare and strike warfare. Navy has planned two new classes of manned or optionally manned warships: a medium sensor platform along the lines of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Sea Hunter, and a large unmanned surface combatant able to carry sensors and weapons — an unmanned ship on a scale never yet attempted.
The move is part of the larger Pentagon push to align with the new National Defense Strategy that refocuses the Department of Defense to prepare for conflict with a near-peer adversary like Russia or China. Particularly, a potential conflict against China in the Western Pacific has driven decisions in how all the services pursue new weapon systems. For the Navy, a major consideration is the more than 1,000 nautical mile range of the People’s Liberation Army’s DF-21D and DF-26 family of anti-ship ballistic missiles.
“We have to guard against things like the DF-21, DF-26 and the whole plethora of Chinese missiles that can reach out and strike a surface fleet or territory out as far as Guam,” Alan Shaffer, deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said on Wednesday at the McAleese defense conference in Washington, D.C. Part of that includes developing “attritable” capabilities that include systems like the large USV that can keep manned platforms further away from threats.
China in competition with the US to sail unmanned warships
China launched a world-leading unmanned warship in August 2019 , with its developer claiming the vessel is combat-ready. Jointly developed by No. 716 and No. 702 research institutes under the state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), the JARI multi-purpose unmanned combat vessel held its launch ceremony on Wednesday at an undisclosed location, according to a statement the No. 716 Research Institute of CSIC released on its WeChat account on Wednesday. The launch indicates the world-leading combat drone ship has gained initial combat capability, the statement said.
Announcing JARI’s combat-readiness immediately after its launch is also an indication of how mature the technologies used on the ship are, a military expert who asked not to be named told the Global Times on Thursday. Normally a warship needs multiple sea trials before it becomes operational, the expert noted. It will still need further tests to unlock its full potential of being a fully autonomous combat drone ship, according to the statement.
The 15-metre (49-foot), 20-tonne (22-short ton) ship is being developed by China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) and has a range of 500 nautical miles and a top speed of 42 knots. It is capable of conducting air defense, anti-ship and anti-submarine missions thanks to a phased array radar system, vertical-launched missiles and torpedoes, China Central Television (CCTV) reported in February, when a model of the JARI was exhibited at the 14th International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi.
Equipped with an active phased array radar and other advanced electronic systems – similar to those on the US Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyer or China’s Type 052D guided-missile destroyer – it has been dubbed the “mini Aegis destroyer”. Its sonar system can track underwater targets 7km (4 miles) away. Its weaponry gives it the scope to carry out anti-submarine, air defence and anti-ship missions. The drone has a 30mm (one-inch) cannon, close-range air defence missiles, two small surface-to-air and anti-ship missile launchers and two anti-submarine torpedo launchers.
The JARI can be remotely controlled, but also uses artificial intelligence to autonomously navigate and undertake combat activities once it receives commands, the CCTV report said. The drone ship could either work stealthily alone or form a swarm with others to become a formidable power, analysts said. A CSIC representative told CCTV that the ship has garnered a lot of attention from military representatives from many countries while it was on display at IDEX.
DARPA’s ship designed to operate completely without humans
The No Manning Required, Ship (NOMARS) program seeks to design a ship that can operate autonomously for long durations at sea, enabling a clean-sheet ship design process that eliminates design considerations associated with crew. NOMARS focuses on exploring novel approaches to the design of the seaframe (the ship without mission systems) while accommodating representative payload size, weight, and power.
NOMARS aims to challenge the traditional naval architecture model, designing a seaframe from the ground up with no provision, allowance, or expectation for humans at sea. By removing the human element from all ship design considerations, the program intends to demonstrate significant advantages, to include size, cost, at-sea reliability, survivability to sea-state, and survivability to adversary actions such as stealth considerations and resistance to tampering. The program also will strive for greater hydrodynamic efficiency via hull optimization without requirements for crew safety or comfort.
Exploring these uncharted waters takes innovation, and DARPA is looking at some interesting specifications for the NOMARS program with two research tracks.
- Track A (Integrated Seaframe Design and Maintenance): will create a framework to evaluate potential design trades against performance requirements, both in terms of the design of the human-less seaframe, as well as the maintenance architectures that would be needed to operate the seaframe.
- Track B (Enabling Sub-system Technologies): will allow for agile development of relevant subsystem technologies, with a focus on self-adaptive health management for systems relevant to and of similar complexity as that associated with the hull, mechanical, and electrical systems of a seaframe.
“By removing the human element from all ship design considerations, the program intends to demonstrate significant advantages, to include size, cost, at-sea reliability, survivability to sea-state, and survivability to adversary actions such as stealth considerations and resistance to tampering,” the NOMARS program description reads.