China’s great leap in unmanned warship development

Chinese shipbuilders have announced several new and noteworthy unmanned surface vehicle (USV) developments in recent weeks.

The state-owned China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) on 31 May used its official social media account to announce that it has begun construction of a new trimaran-hull large USV at its Guangzhou-based 716th Research Institute subsidiary. The new USV is also being jointly developed with other company units such as Huangpu Shipyard (427 Factory), and the 605th Research Institute.

“The large-scale [USV] adopts a trimaran high-speed hydrofoil design, which has the characteristics of high speed and long endurance, and can independently perform tasks in different scenarios,” the company stated, without disclosing further details.

A large concept representation of the large USV at the launch ceremony suggests that vehicle is based on the new 300-tonne class Multirole Unmanned Combat Surface Vehicle (UCSV) design that CSSC had earlier unveiled for the first time at the World Defense Show (WDS) 2022 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in early March.

According to official specifications, the UCSV design will displace around 340 tonnes at full load and features a 58-metre-long hull with an overall width of 18.1 metres. Three waterjets provide a top speed of 42 knots and a maximum range of 4,000 nautical miles.

The sea vehicle will likely serve as a mothership for vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as well as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), with the model featuring a stern helipad supporting a rotary-wing UAV and provision for launch and recovery of AUVs underneath.

Meanwhile, a video circulated by the Maritime China journal on 8 June suggests that Zhejiang Beikun Intelligent Technology has completed sea trials of its 100 tonne-class large USV prototype. The unnamed USV – which is constructed by the Jiangxi-based Tongfang Jiangxin Shipbuilding – is based on a trimaran-hull design comparable to the US Navy’s Sea Hunter with a large main hull and pontoon-like outriggers.

The prototype USV was first observed at the shipbuilder’s yard on the banks of the Yangtze River via open-source satellite imagery in mid-2019.

China has in the past highlighted other large USV concepts aimed at high-end naval operations. State-owned defence prime China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) had in late 2017 unveiled its unmanned D3000 Oceanic Combat Vessel development, although the status of this programme is unknown.

by Jr Ng