Autonomous Drone Carrier: Meet Zhuhaiyun, the Chinese Navy's new autonomous ship

A Chinese naval ship navigates autonomously and controls a swarm of onboard drones.

What’s new: The Zhuhaiyun, billed as the first autonomous drone carrier, officially entered service after 12 hours of trials on open water, the South China Morning Post reported.

How it works: The vessel plans its path and avoids hazards using data from onboard sensors and satellites. Remote human operators can take control if needed.

  • The ship measures 290 feet from bow to stern and moves at roughly 20 miles per hour. Its tasks in the coming year include patrolling, mapping, observation, and marine sampling.
  • It’s equipped with an unspecified number of air, surface, and underwater drones that can monitor its surroundings up to 29 miles away. The final trials included the release and recovery of all drones.

Behind the news: China’s first autonomous military ship completed sea trials in June. The vessel’s developers didn’t specify its intended purpose, but observers noted its resemblance to the Sea Hunter, an autonomous ship developed by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to hunt submarines and clear mines. China is building another large uncrewed ship with features similar to U.S. craft, and the U.S. is developing numerous other autonomous aircraft and ships.

Why it matters: For naval commanders, autonomous ships are less costly to operate than crewed ships, can deploy without stocking human provisions, and won’t leave noncombatants bereft if they sink.

We’re thinking: The Batch supports the United Nations’ proposed ban on fully autonomous weapons. Meanwhile, autonomous vessels have valuable peacetime uses: oceanographic research, search and rescue, and ferrying cargo, to name a few.