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Navy launches latest unmanned boat squadron in San Diego

The Navy's small fleet of unmanned vessels grew this month with the establishment of a new boat squadron in San Diego.

Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) Squadron 3 is the Navy's second such squadron. The first is based at Naval Base Ventura County.

The Ventura-based squadron works with medium and large USVs, while the new San Diego unit will focus on small ones.


Local Navy leaders spoke Friday at the squadron's establishment ceremony at Naval Base Coronado.

"Modern warfare requires faster innovation and adaption," said Vice Adm. Brendan McLane, U.S. Naval Surface Forces commander. "Our Navy needs to bring ideas to prototype, to experimentation and to build solutions faster than ever."

Officials didn't offer many specifics on the new vessels' capabilities. The Global Reconnaissance Recon Craft, or "GARC," is about the size of a two-person rowboat. Navy officials said the craft could be outfitted with a variety of payloads, such as communications equipment, sensors or weapons.

The vessels can be operated remotely, semi-autonomously or fully autonomous, officials said.

"The entire time, they are being monitored by a man in the loop," said Capt. Shea Thompson, the commander of Surface Development Group 1. "There's never a moment where we will allow these things to go out unmanned without us being able to monitor their operations."


The squadron is small for now, with about 20 sailors and four boats, but the Navy says it will grow to about 400 sailors with many more vessels.

The service is still experimenting with how best to use the technology, said Lt. Nicole Kim, the squadron's experimentation lead. She said she's happy to be working on the leading edge of this technology.

"Developing the future capabilities of the Navy is ... really rewarding because I get to say in the future that I was a part of that," she said.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Kaleb Cox is helping develop and test communications systems for the GARC. Cox, who was trained as an electronics technician in the Navy, said he's surprised to find himself working on autonomous systems.

"I can't say it was my first thought as to what I'd be doing," he said.

In February, the service launched a new robotics job specialty for enlisted sailors. Cox said he's looking forward to applying.

Officials previously said unmanned surface systems have already been used in drug interdiction efforts near Central and South America and could be deployed in the future in the Middle East or in the western Pacific.