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Future Warships Could Be Sailed Remotely with Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality

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Navies of the future could use technology to allow sailors to work remotely. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality would allow some crew members to work from shore, operating key sections of ships from thousands of miles away. The result could be semi-autonomous warships that sail with smaller crews, putting fewer in harm’s way.
The Telegraph reports that the Royal Navy could use AI and VR tech in the future to reduce the size of ship’s crews. The principle is similar to that used by unmanned aerial vehicle operators who control drones flying thousands of miles away. Sailors who can do their jobs remotely, such as operating sensors or weapons, could do so from bases on land where they are safe from enemy fire. Even ship captains could remain on shore, commanding their ships from naval bases on land. 

According to The Telegraph, BAE Systems has been pitching the concept as something useful to the UK Royal Navy. “Unlike on-board control rooms where officers are usually seated, in case the ship is struck by an enemy munition that would knock them off their feet, in an on-land control room officers could be allowed to walk freely around the room,” the newspaper quoted a BAE representative as stating. 
Aircraft were logically the first weapon systems to be remotely operated. Airplanes typically fly with small crews of two or less, fly short missions that don’t require maintenance, and are relatively disposable. Ships on the other hand are operated by crews numbering in the dozens to manage hundreds of tasks, remain at sea for months on end, require maintenance by trained personnel often while hundreds of miles from shore, and can easily cost a half billion dollars or more. The complexity involved with operating warships is a tall order for AI and VR-equipped sailors or land.

Another problem with some ship personnel working from shore: Navies need to assume that their warships will be jammed or forced to operate without emitting radar and communications signals that enemy forces could use to locate them. Warships could also be jammed by the enemy or sustain damage that knocks out power or communications. If the link between ship and shore goes down, those jobs outsourced to land-based personnel don’t get done, at the worst possible time. 
In the meantime, BAE Systems is experimenting with augmented reality onboard the ship, allowing an “Officer of the Watch, responsible for the ship’s safety, to work outside of the operations room and still be able to see tactical data and other vital information.” The technology will use Microsoft’s Hololens and will debut at the Royal Navy’s Information Warrior 19 exercises in 2019.

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