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US Navy USVs fire first lethal munitions in Middle East during exercise

The US Navy fired its first live munitions from an unmanned surface vessel during an exercise. (US Navy)

Unmanned surface vessels (USVs) of the US Navy (USN) fired live weapons on 23 October during Exercise ‘Digital Talon' in the international waters surrounding the Arabian Peninsula – the first use of lethal munitions from USVs in the Middle East region, US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) confirmed on 1 November.

During the exercise, co-ordinated with and supported by Commander, Special Operations Forces Central Command, NAVCENT's Task Force 59, the USN's first unmanned and artificial intelligence task force, demonstrated the ability of ‘manned-unmanned teaming' with traditionally crewed ships to identify and target simulated hostile forces at sea, represented by a target boat, NAVCENT officials said.

An unmanned MARTAC T38 Devil Ray USV, equipped with a Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System, successfully scored direct hits each time during multiple firing events, NAVCENT officials said.

The tests relied on a human operator ashore at Task Force 59's Robotics Operations Center to make the engagement decisions.

The USN identified the further development of uncrewed technology as one of its priorities in its updated priority list released in October – specifically noting the work being done in that area in the Middle East region.

Exercise ‘Digital Talon' marked the second consecutive month that the USN successfully demonstrated “advanced unmanned capabilities in the region”, Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, NAVCENT commander, noted in a statement.

In September the USN used unmanned underwater, surface, and aerial vehicles to track Iranian Navy and Islamic Revolution Guard Corps Navy ships and small boats over several days during routine patrols in and around the Strait of Hormuz, NAVCENT officials said.

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