Key point: America and China are both rushing to build robots to fight each other's neighbors.
China may soon have a new weapon to help defend itself against enemy submarines.
For years, many have commented on Beijing’s lack of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. The Department of Defense’s 2016 report on China’s military, for instance, noted that Beijing “continues to lack either a robust coastal or deep-water anti-submarine warfare capability.”
This was not a major problem when China’s naval strategy was largely aimed at denying adversaries access to its coastlines. In recent years, however, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has begun deploying bigger, more advanced ships as it pushes to become a blue water navy. These ships also make great targets for enemy submarines—something that hasn’t gone unnoticed among China’s neighbors and the United States—creating a greater urgency for Beijing to strengthen its ASW capabilities.
One component of this can be found in a new article by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. On July 22, the SCMP reported, citing Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, that “China is developing large, smart and relatively low-cost unmanned submarines that can roam the world’s oceans to perform a wide range of missions.” One of these missions is almost certain to be ASW.
The report said that the robot submarines are not intended to fully replace manned submarines. And, at least for now, they will not make entirely autonomous attack decisions. That is, a military officer must approve whether to attack another ship.