There are numerous reasons for naval commanders to have uninhabited systems available for their fleets. These can be quite simply summarised as they can be sent to places too dangerous for human personnel; they are usually small, low sized and therefore difficult to detect; their cost structure enables them to be deployed in large numbers if required and sustain modest losses; they can be deployed large distances away, and can be left in position for long periods without the need for replenishment – providing they have sails and/or solar panels.
However, and whenever uninhabited naval systems are used, they still have to fit within a command and control system. This is so that their special capabilities can be used to best advantage.
The next war at sea could be fought at the speed of electronic thought, with autonomous vessels obliterating each other, along with conventional crewed vessels in frantic battles decided by which side has superior artificial intelligence and reaction times.
The United States Navy (USN) fields a diverse range of unmanned surface vessels (USVs) and unmanned underwater vessels (UUVs), from small to extra-large. Under its proposed new fleet architecture, there will be proportionately more USVs, dubbed the ‘Ghost Fleet. Photos of early fleet members indicate that these are about corvette size, around 2,000 tonnes displacement, and can be optionally crewed.