Autonomous Submarines Now Being Developed in China


China's submarine. / Photo by: United States Naval Institute News Blog via Wikimedia Commons


While self-driving companies are busy in developing unnamed cars, aircraft, yachts, the Chinese military is planning to build a fleet of unmanned submarines. The self-driving underwater vessels are expected to be large, smart, and cost-effective.

The autonomous submarines are a part of China’s plan to improve the country’s naval force through the application of AI technology. According to a report by the South China Morning Post, the unnamed submarines will join other autonomous and manned vehicles in performing coordinated missions on land, in water, and in orbit.

The researchers said that no single human operator will be on board when the self-driving vessels perform missions. The autonomous OS will be responsible for functions like undocking, carrying out missions, and the return to base of the subs. 

For communications, the vessels can contact the ground command via regular updates, but the technologies to run communications were not revealed. The researchers clarified that the creation of AI-based self-driving submarines is not intended to completely replace human workers since the decisions to attack will be handled by human commanders.

Unlike other models of unmanned underwater vehicles like drones, the autonomous subs are larger and use a reconfigurable cargo bay to accommodate a variety of freight. The cargo bay may also be used to store surveillance equipment and warheads. However, the AI-powered vessels will use diesel-electric hybrid engines that can provide fuel for several months.

Here are some of the AI-based functionalities the subs can do when completing missions:

- Change its travel course and depth to prevent from being detected.

- Recognize the difference between civilians and military vessels.

- Select the best method to reach the target location.

- Gather intelligence.

- Deploy mines.

Since the OS and the submarines are still in the early stages of development, the researchers only assigned simple tasks to test their functions.