Among the list of heavy weapons worth $800 million that the United States plans to transfer to Ukraine, there is one very unusual position – Unmanned Coastal Defense Vessels. What could it be?
Unmanned coastal vessel is a category of ships that have existed since the end of the XIX century. For example, back in 1898, the famous Nikola Tesla received a patent for a radio-controlled model of a boat. Of course, since then, technology has improved and many countries are now working towards autonomous civilian and military ships. The United States is no exception.
Over the next 5 years, the US Navy plans to spend as much as $4 billion on the development, construction and operation of unmanned marine systems. But these are still plans. As of now, the United States does not have a single unmanned surface vessel. What then does the Pentagon plan to convey to Ukraine?
Speaking about this position of the list, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that it was “a ship that can be used for various coastal defense missions” and assured that “they work.”
Currently, the US Navy has only four prototypes of the USVs. Two experimental unarmed Sea Hunter-class ships built under the DARPA Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel. These ships have an impressive operating range of 70 days and 19,000 km, but no weapons.
Two other ships, actually more like the small self-propelled barges USV Ranger and USV Nomad, are part of the so-called Ghost Fleet Overlord, a fleet of test drones of the US Navy. These are also unarmed test platforms, but there is one important “but”.
In September 2021, the US Navy placed aboard the USV Ranger container launcher of RIM-174 Standard ERAM anti-aircraft missiles, also known as Standard Missile 6 (SM-6), and successfully launched the SM-6 from an unmanned platform . That is, the USV Ranger and USV Nomad can carry weapons, and even very good ones.
The fact is that the SM-6 is an air defense missile with a range of 370 km and an interception height of up to 34 km. The speed of the SM-6 missile is 1.2 km / s, i.e. Mach 3.5, and it is designed to intercept aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles in the last stage of flight. That is the final line against nuclear weapons. Yes, it’s not the SM-3 that can shoot down ballistic missiles in space, but if the SM-3 missed something, the SM-6 should fix it.
The cost of one SM-6 missile is more than $4.3 million, so it will be used only for most important purposes. Given that the Russians have now begun to say that they do not plan a nuclear strike on Ukraine, this is exactly what should be expected of them. And here the USVs with the SM-6, which are remotely controlled by NATO specialists, will become at least some kind of anti-nuclear umbrella for Kyiv.
Given that there are no other Unmanned Coastal Defense Vessels in the United States, this is the only possible explanation.