Sail-powered Drone Pitched as High-endurance Submarine Hunter

The Navy could use one of the world’s oldest technologies to defeat one of the newest by launching autonomous sailing drones to find and track enemy submarines.

Saildrone is marketing its unmanned — the company calls its vessels “uncrewed” — surface vessels, outfitted with a composite rigid wing sail, as a persistent reconnaissance platform capable of carrying sophisticated sonar equipment. The drones, which power their keel-mounted payloads with solar energy, can stay at sea for extended periods to perform an array of missions, according to Brian Cannon, Saildrone’s vice president of ocean mapping.

“We use the wind to sail these around, primarily collecting ocean data, atmospheric and oceanographic observations, but we can also put a payload in the keel and do things like fisheries surveys or single-beam mapping,” Cannon told USNI NEWS at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space 2021 symposium at National Harbor, Maryland, where Saildrone was on display for the first time.

“From a defense perspective, we’re using these to look for seamounts that might be a hazard to submarine navigation,” he said. “It’s a very low-cost way to go out in an area where someone thought they might have seen something; we can go out and say whether it’s there and to stay away or it’s deep enough that a submarine can pass through safely.”

AI Bot running SUBSIM, what could go wrong?!