Submarine Warfare & Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is providing the modern approach to handle the complex-next-generation-warfare and the adaptation level of AI will decide move of wars. Navies are integrating AI into its ship systems, weapons, networks, and command and control as advanced algorithms are shaping the entire matrix.

Sea trials for `Vagir', the fifth submarine of Project 75, started in February 2022. (Representative image)
Sea trials for `Vagir', the fifth submarine of Project 75, started in February 2022. (Representative image)

By Amit Das

April 2016, Sea Hunter was launched by the American Navy mentored by DARPA (Defence Advance Research Project Agency) a 40-meter unmanned and completely autonomous warship designed for the anti-submarine warfare. The entire manoeuvre and navigation of Sea Hunter was controlled by the artificial intelligence with zero-crew size onboard. After five years in April 2021 another technological miracle was designed by the MSubs for the British Naval Power. It was debuted as UUVs (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles), which is the exclusive research prototype for XLUUV (Extra Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicle). The fabrication motivation is to control XLUUV up to 3000 miles from the command centre for three-month duration. The global powers are trying to introduce XLUUV due to capability for handle the various underwater challenges with more efficient and accurate approach.

Early in 20th century, the incarnation of submarines in deep waters of seas were recognised as the major threat for the surface ships. In WWII the submarine warfare had presented their importance in Pacific-Asian and European theatre specifically the German U-Boats revealed the lethal power of underwater boats. In present scenario the power of submarine is not unknown by the world navy. Submarines are accepted as an offensive weapon system by the naval powers and it is also considered as useful underwater vessel by the civilian world for marine research, deep sea exploration and recovery of salvages. Last few decades, more attack submarines had been deployed in oceans, powered with advanced nuclear reactors, guided missiles with accurate torpedoes. The U.S. Navy’s Ohio class submarine and Russian Navy’s Akula class submarine may be the best example of advanced submarines.

Navy always decides the dynamics of geo-politics and the strategic analysis of the world history is showing that the priority to the naval power always channelize the power of state towards the expansion mode. Maritime strength is fundamental to the balance of the power in geopolitics today. Due to the quick changes in the global politics, the naval powers are facing fusion kind of naval warfare which is amalgamation of conventional, non-traditional and advanced digital warfare. The nature of hybrid naval warfare is totally non-symmetric and impacted by various emerging actors. It is demanding the agile naval warfare strategy with the intelligent next generation technologies to retain the war superiority.    

The Artificial Intelligence is providing the modern approach to handle the complex-next-generation-warfare and the adaptation level of AI will decide move of wars. Navies are integrating AI into its ship systems, weapons, networks, and command and control as advanced algorithms are shaping the entire matrix.

The basis of AI is Big Data. “The question is how we convert the massive data bytes and turn it into information without getting overloaded, this will be a key part of AI, then we’re talking about handling decentralized systems,” said Nathan Husted of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock addressing at the 2022 Sea Air Space Symposium.

The global powers are intentionally exploring the application of AI for the future weapon system. The in-depth growths of AI technologies are encouraging the arms industries to develop more accurate, lethal and autonomous weapons. The extensive applications of AI are attracting the naval strategist to evolve the AI each layer of the naval warfare from ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) to fleet tactics. The high risk and unforeseeable situation of oceans are the most favourable situation to enclose the AI with the regular operation of naval exercises and naval battles. The deployment of those intelligent technologies could upgrade exponentially the operation capabilities of naval commanders, warships and submarines and it is fit for the naval battles. The marine circumstances are very complex and lot of parameters have been aligned to execute naval operations successfully with the specialized intelligences. The involvement of AI increases the human intelligence with more efficient and the accurate capacity.

The naval warfare is enclosed by three different warfare. They are underwater warfare, surface warfare and aerial warfare. The entire US Defence strategy is mostly influenced by its underwater warfare strategy and same is with Russian and Chinese Navy. The global naval powers are preparing the strong road map for the future underwater warfare. The silent submarines are authentic source of surveillance and data gathering practiced by the countries. Submarines are required to construct a strong defence strategy with the deterrent power to stop any adverse naval situations in the favour of national security. Countries are strengthening the undersea warfare by the deploying the modern submarines and highly engineered underwater systems. The developments of undersea competitions are increasing the intersection of technologies in undersea operations.

The naval war strategists are including AI in different approach for the underwater warfare: –

  • Use of AI in Submarine Operations
  • Use of AI for the UUV (Unmanned Underwater Vehicle)

Use of AI in Submarine Operations      

The sank of Indonesian Submarine KRI Nanggala in the coast of Bali is the most recent example showcasing the complexity of the submarine operations despite of the high risk in ocean the submarine force is one of the most priorities by the countries due to its offensive stealth power. They have quality to attack silently and to impose strong obstacles against the aggressive naval fleets. The complex and unseen environment of deep undersea creates tough challenges for the submarine commander. During the submarine navigation the limitation of human intelligences or other technical issues are the major causes of submarine accidents. To improve the capacity of the submarine crew the AI technologies are deployed by the most of the advanced naval powers. AI applications are increasing the potential thinking power of the commanding officer.   

China is working for next generation nuclear submarine to control the ocean. It is considered that those Type 96 class submarine could be AI enabled to support and upgrade the decision-making capabilities of the commander. The inclusion of AI techniques may be major reason of naval supremacy in underwater battle in near future. The long deep-water dives and restricted inner environment of submarine always a major reason of the stressed mental statues of the crew members. The AI augmented control system could help to take the optimised decisions within the limited time frame. The machine learning algorithm may helpful to identify the non-visible threats for the submarine without any human-error based on available data or real-time data. The human brain has limited capabilities to identify the deep-sea risks simultaneously. In traditional submarines human skills are used to decode sonar waves, due to noise sometimes it is tough to interpret the real statues of the activities. The AI enabled sonar system could easily trace and recognise accurately the surrounding activities of the submarine. The intelligent technologies are helping to submarine commanders to take the best and optimised decision with the very low probability of error. The success of submarine operations is always the game of decisions which is based on commander’s intuition and the use of machine intelligence could easily exponentially upgrade the quality of decision making.    

As per the US Congressional Report the cost of one Virginia Class nuclear powered submarine is approximately $3.6 billion similarly the cost of next generation nuclear missile submarine of Colombia class is also in billions. The modern costly submarines are equipped with the advanced sensors could be controlled by the AI technologies to protect the submarine from the trace of the enemy country. Modern submarines are stealth, but still, they produce noises of very low frequency during their silent running. The low frequencies could be surveillance by the series of sensors installed on sea bed by the enemy states. The game of hide and seek going to be more interesting due to increase in the disappear capacity of submarines and surveillance capacity of sensors. The installation of AI, Machine Learning and Deep learning technologies are upgrading the submarine weapon system up to the next level of accuracy. By the support of machine intelligence, the lethal weapon system could easily engage the undersea targets with error less efficiency. It would be easier for the submarine commanders to extract the hidden information from the available large data sets for the strategic intelligence. The use of different AI technologies (Deep learning, Machine Learning, Reinforcement Learning) and data analytics tools support to the submarine crew to defend their boats from the various attacks or undersea challenges. SQUIDs (Super Quantum Interface Devices) are next generation sensor devices, which may create more sensitive digital underwater environments to detect the submarines in near future. Now submarine designers should be cautious about to create more defensive and offensive kind of underwater boats.

Use of AI and UUV (Unmanned Underwater Vehicle)

Dive-Dive-Dive…………Alarm………those command words of submarine commanders may be part of naval history in future due to paradigm shift in submarine technology. The exponential development of autonomous machines and its constructive application in marine could easily change the naval operations globally. America, China, Russia, India, Australia many more countries are investing huge amount of research hours to develop the sophisticated UUVs (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles), underwater drones and ROVs (Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles). The story of zero-crew size under water technology was initiated by the US Navy in the 1960, the funded project was “Cable-Controlled-Underwater-Recovery-Vehicle”. It was first kind of ROV technology, conceptualized to execute the deep ocean operations and controlled by the operators through the cables from the vessels. UUVs and AUVs (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles) are the advanced level ROVs and encapsulated with the feature of autonomy.

Those UUVs and AUVs conducts their underwater operations without the help or intervention of operators. Due to not requirement of real time inputs from the operator, it performed all the functions autonomously. The AUV conducts various underwater survey missions under the hostile situations without the human interventions. It collects the data from the mapped area and returned to the programmed location. Many types of AUVs have been developed and deployed as per the requirement of the projects. The AUVs are capable to grab the best quality of data from the sea beds. The design of AUVs influence its drift, glide and propel quality. The AI uses artificial intelligent agents to operate AUVs autonomously without the human involvement. Intelligent Agents are the autonomous entities which reacts according to the external environment. Beijing is claiming the AI System that could design the hypersonic weapons autonomously.

AUVs are useful for:

Marine Geo-Science
Ocean Environment Assessment
Rescue and Search Operations
ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance)
Coastal Surveillance
Oil Rigs and Subsea Operations
Under water mines or Naval mines
Hydrographic Surveys
Exploration of Deep Sea
Data Acquisition of Ocean 

The US Navy founded UUVRON-1(Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Squadron-1) to accelerate the use of UUVs in different naval operations. Echo Voyager of Boeing and Orca of Lockheed Martine is XLUUV (Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle) is the next generation of UUVs with the greater pay load and high-level of autonomy. The UUV have limitations for payload and endurance, which is upgraded through the XLUUVs. XLUUVs are capable to handle the critical naval challenges, able to store more payloads with the effective communication system.

CLAW a project funded by the US Office of Naval Research, developing the autonomous unmanned undersea weapon system that could provide the offensive capabilities to the US navy. Those autonomous unmanned undersea weapon systems could be installed on submarine robots such as XLUUVs. These AI enabled submarines could easily destroy the undersea targets with accurate efficiency without the involvement of human brain.

The underwater autonomous attack system could reduce the operational cost of navy and to improve the professional capabilities in deep oceans. Many global naval powers are executing projects to develop the next generation XLUUVs to control the ocean without any restriction.

There are various technology clusters, which could redefine the naval operational capabilities either on sea surface or underwater. From High performance computing to acoustic sensors, Autonomous automation system to cognitive process control.   

Amit Das is Head of Centre for AI & Machine Learning, The ICFAI University, Dehradun.

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