A scene from a military exercise in France in which submarines participated in May 2007 (Getty)

Unmanned submarines are submersible water vehicles that operate underwater without the need for direct human intervention. They are equipped with the latest technologies, including modern communications systems, sensors, GPS, and advanced navigation systems.

Unmanned submarines have various uses, ranging from scientific research, exploration, and carrying out military and security missions.

Types of unmanned submarines

There are two basic types of unmanned submarines:

Remotely controlled submarines:

This type of submarine is controlled manually by a human operator, and its goal is to avoid sending humans on difficult underwater missions. They are often used for scientific research or industrial purposes.

The structure of this type of vehicle contains a camera and sensors, in addition to a handle that enables it to pick up objects underwater. The US Navy has developed this type of submarine to also be used in underwater rescue operations, as the American “SRDRS” vehicles can rescue Up to 16 people up to 2,000 feet underwater.

Autonomous submarines:

These are vehicles that do not need a human operator to control them remotely. They are programmed to work automatically and autonomously, and their weights range from a few kilograms to a few tons. By the early 2000s, 10 different autonomous submarines had been developed, including vehicles. Self-propelled and underwater gliders.

History of submarines

Autonomous submarines were first manufactured in 1957 for the purpose of conducting research in Arctic waters for the Applied Doctoral Laboratory at the University of Washington, and since then scientists have worked to develop new models with better specifications of these vehicles.

In 1983, ISA Limited - in partnership with the International Submarine Engineering Corporation - developed autonomous and remotely controlled vehicles, producing advanced submarines in terms of battery life and navigation and communications systems.

During the same period of time, the Russian Institute of Marine Technology was able to develop solar-powered unmanned submarines that could carry out long-range exploration voyages.

These submarines allowed for longer missions, with the ability to use features such as Global Positioning System (GPS).

Extending the life of the batteries enabled the creation of “gliding drone submarines” in 1995 that allowed for long-range diving, in which the vehicles remained underwater for weeks or even months before being retrieved for maintenance.

The beginning of the 21st century witnessed a revolution in the manufacture and development of both types of unmanned submarines, and their uses became very multiple, as the number of their users increased at the international level, and because of the increased demand for them, commercial sales of unmanned submarines began, and the scope of research on developing these submarines expanded so that they suit the diversity of use between industrial and commercial. Al-Harbi and others.

An unmanned submarine at an exhibition in London in September 2023 (Getty)

Advantages of unmanned submarines

Unmanned submarines are distinguished from regular submarines by different characteristics, the most notable of which are:

  • Improved communications systems:

    Unmanned submarines are equipped with advanced communications systems, allowing them to provide safe communications even in the most difficult underwater conditions.

    This enables seamless communication between different military units underwater.

  • Higher efficiency:

    Unmanned submarines are able to operate autonomously, significantly reducing the need for human involvement.

    Knowing that its ability to perform tasks without human intervention greatly increases efficiency, saves time, and reduces risks that threaten human life.

  • Stealth operations:

    Unlike regular submarines, unmanned submarines do not emit loud noises, making them an ideal choice for stealth missions, as they can collect valuable intelligence information and carry out surveillance activities without being noticed, providing a tactical advantage to military forces.

  • Data collection and analysis:

    Unmanned submarines are equipped with advanced sensors and effective data collection systems, enabling them to collect vital information about the environment, surroundings and potential threats, and this data can be analyzed to quickly make appropriate decisions.

  • Multi-purpose capabilities:

    The structure and composition of unmanned submarines can be modified and equipped with different payloads, such as sensors, cameras and communications devices, depending on mission requirements.

    This versatility allows it to adapt to different scenarios and carry out a wide range of tasks.

Market value of unmanned submarines

The value of the global market for unmanned submarines reached approximately $3.02 billion in 2022, and is expected to grow to $8.14 billion by 2030, with an annual growth rate of 13.5%.

Significant investments have been spent in developing unmanned submarines using artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to increase the autonomy of these underwater vehicles and make them able to operate more efficiently.

Uses of unmanned submarines

There are many uses for unmanned submarines, which can be summarized as follows:

Military uses

Unmanned submarines are used to serve many military purposes, including collecting information, reconnaissance, and detonating sea mines, as well as participating in attacks on enemy ships.

The US Navy began using drone submarines in the 1990s to detect and disable underwater mines, and it also used them during its invasion of Iraq in the first decade of the 21st century to remove mines around the port of Umm Qasr in the south of the country.

The Chinese military uses unmanned submarines mostly for military data collection and reconnaissance purposes.

American forces are preparing a submarine to be sent to sea (Getty)

On December 20, 2020, a fisherman in Indonesia discovered a glider-shaped submarine near Selayar Island in South Sulawesi.

The craft has been classified by Indonesian military personnel as belonging to the Chinese Navy, and was created for the purposes of collecting data, including water temperature, salinity and oxygen levels, information that could help chart ideal routes for submarines.

In November 2022, the Eurasia Times reported that China's Harbin Engineering University had developed a trans-Mediterranean aircraft-shaped unmanned submarine capable of underwater and air travel, pointing to potential military applications for such vehicles.

In all, the navies of multiple countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China, are building unmanned submarines for use in ocean warfare for the purpose of detecting and eliminating underwater mines.

For example, the Remus submarine, a 3-foot-tall robot used to mine one square mile underwater in 16 hours, was built. This rate is more efficient than human capacity, as a team of human divers requires more than On 21 days to perform the same task.

Scientific exploration in the oceans is one of the most prominent areas in which unmanned submarines are used (Getty)

Filming documentaries

Drone submarines are also used to film documentaries. For example, they were used to film a film entitled “Dark Secrets” of the Lusitania, the British ocean liner sunk by the Germans during World War I. It was a film produced by the National Geographic Foundation, and the submarines helped... The journey in filming professional footage of the shipwreck.

Drone submarines also played a role in finding the wreck of the Titanic, and took many pictures of it that were included in the film produced by the same organization in 1986, which was titled “Secrets of the Titanic.”

Deep sea exploration

This is considered one of the most prominent tasks carried out by unmanned submarines.

For example, these compounds have been used to collect samples from the seabed to determine the percentage of microplastics present, to explore deep-sea animals and structures, and to discover new types of underwater organisms.

Unmanned submersibles are commonly used in ocean research, for purposes such as measuring currents and temperature, mapping the ocean floor, and detecting hydrothermal vents.

Members of the US Navy prepare to send a drone submarine into the deep sea on a rescue mission on Hawaii Island (Getty)

Ecosystem rehabilitation

Several companies offer unmanned submersibles that can collect and transmit water data remotely to local governments, making key decisions regarding ecosystem rehabilitation policies in rivers, seas and oceans.

Use in wars

Many countries own these submarines and use them for military purposes, including Britain, Canada, Australia, North Korea, and Iran.

Countries strive to secure their coastal waters, protect vital sea lanes, and gain tactical and strategic advantages that help them confront adversaries, and unmanned submarines are considered one of the most prominent vehicles used to achieve these purposes.

The use of unmanned submarines in modern wars has changed the way the naval forces of many countries operate, especially with the extensive capabilities that these submarines possess, from collecting information to eliminating mines and ending with attacking enemy ships.

China, France, Germany, the United States and the Netherlands are among the leading countries that are rapidly developing their vehicles, especially those used in the military sector.

Russia is also seeking to develop nuclear unmanned submarines, which may be the first of their kind.

An example of the use of unmanned submarines in modern wars is the Russian war on Ukraine, as unmanned submarines were used by Ukraine to attack Russian ships in the Black Sea.

In contrast, Russia used unmanned submarines for military purposes.

The Houthi group also used unmanned submarines in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in February 2024, as part of a series of operations carried out by the Houthis in solidarity with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Source: websites