The U.S. Navy has fired missiles from a remote-controlled boat for the very first time in tests which took place on Wednesday just off the Maryland coast.
If successful, the system could be introduced as the navy’s equivalent of the unmanned drone planes already used by the Air Force.
Over three days of testing, six anti-armor Spike missiles were fired from the moving inflatable hulled watercraft at a floating target two miles away.
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Both the control of the boat and the firing of the missiles was handled remotely by Navy personnel on shore at the nearby Patuxent River base.
The tests are a ‘significant step forward in weaponizing surface unmanned combat capability,’ Mark Moses, the Navy’s program manager for the armed drone boat project, told Wired.com.
The U.S. military already uses armed robotic planes – drones – and the navy has already experimented with robotic submarines for spying and mine clearance, this is the first system developed for navy vessels to launch attacks.
The navy describes the system, which mounts unto boats, as a ‘Precision Engagement Module’. It consists of a dual-pod missile launcher and an Mk-49 mounting system, both made by Rafael and fully automated.
The navy sees a number of potential uses for the remote-controlled systems including harbor security, defensive operations against fast attack craft and swam scenarios.
However it will probably be most effective against target ships which try and hide among commercial vessels for example on congested waterways.
Another use could be to prevent pirates or Iranian sailors from maneuvering their small, fast boats between targets that Navy Destroyers can’t risk hitting.
Over three days’ worth of tests this week, the Navy shot off the long-range version variant of the Spike, a 30-pound missile with an effective range of about two and a half miles.
The video shows six of the remote firings which may look like near misses to the untrained eyes, but the Navy say that is a trick of the camera angle and they actually hit their targets.
The Navy expects to carry out many more tests before deciding if it wants to purchase a fleet of remote-controlled, missile-packing boats.