The Navy’s newest experiment, a submersible drone, an underwater robot disguised as a fish, a tuna to be more specific, though the project has been dubbed “Silent Nemo” also knows as “The Ghost Swimmer”, after the popular Disney film Finding Nemo. The U.S. military calls its science-fiction-turned-reality projects, the U.S. Navy is developing a robotic fish drone for spying operations that may soon be able to swim without needing a crew or staff, standard protocol applies like collecting intelligence and accessing forbidden areas. Project Silent Nemo so far has cost about $1 million and could be operational as early as next year.
At present, under testing by the Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell and Boston Engineering, the unmanned underwater vehicle is able to make tight turns and move through the water quietly, making it ideal for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Once in the ship, it could be used to inspect the hull of a ship, check waters for threats such as mines or protrusions, deliver payloads including sonar and guidance packages, and access otherwise hard to find areas. The Ghost Swimmer is currently being used to gather data on tides, currents, wakes and weather conditions, according to the Navy. In future, it could be used to swim into hostile waters for reconnaissance missions, Navy officials say.
Despite its dorsal fin mimicking a shark, the 5-foot, 100-pound drone was modeled after a bluefin tuna and uses a rear caudle fin to move through the water just like the fish. The fin is about 10 times quieter than a rotating propeller. The prototype can reach depths up to 300 feet and reach speeds up to 40 knots or about 46 mph, according to the Navy. While sailors controlled its movement via joysticks, the Navy put it to work off the cost of Virginia Beach, Va. It is developed by the chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell, in which young Navy service members are often asked to incorporate leading-edge technologies into devices that can be used by the military.
Christopher Harmer, senior naval analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, and the former deputy director of Future Operations for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet says in this case, it’s an effort to “take the lessons of Dsarwinism, and apply them.”
“It’s a big leap forward in terms of propulsion,” Harmer says, that adding a ship’s propeller is a “relatively inefficient” means of propulsion. “We haven’t been able to mechanically replicate what a fish does until now.”
Although weaponry has not yet been tested for operation Nemo, Harmer told The Christian Science Monitor: “There isn’t any ground-breaking technology that the military hasn’t found some way to eventually weaponize.”
“This is an attempt to take thousands of years of evolution – what has been perfected since the dawn of time – and try to incorporate that into a mechanical device,” said Jerry Lademan, a 27-year-old Marine captain who’s leading the project. The idea is to “essentially reverse-engineer what nature has already done.”
Capt. Jim Loper, head of the concepts and innovation department at the Navy Warfare Development Command in Norfolk, couldn’t say when Nemo would be fully integrated into the fleet. It could become operational as soon as next year, he said.