China launches world’s first AI-powered marine drone carrier

China last week launched the world’s first maritime drone carrier capable of operating on its own. The 290ft vessel will transport, launch, recover and coordinate the actions of more than 50 other autonomous air, surface and underground vehicles.

Named Zhu Hai Yun, construction of the ship in Guangzhou by Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard, a subsidiary of China’s largest shipbuilding company, the China State Shipbuilding Corporation, began in July 2021.

It is the first of its kind, an autonomous self-contained platform that can be remotely controlled and navigated autonomously in open water. The drone carrier will be a powerful tool for the nation to conduct marine scientific research and observation.

The unmanned intelligent system mothership is 88.5 meters long, 14 meters wide and 6.1 meters deep, with a design draft of 3.7 meters. Weighing 2000 tonnes, the marine drone carrier can travel at speeds of 13 knots (24 km/h) and has a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h). The ship can deploy its own boats, submarines and aircraft, communicate with them and execute coordinated missions, including task-based adaptive networking to obtain three-dimensional views of specific targets.

The Zhu Hai Yun has a spacious deck, which can carry dozens of unmanned air, sea and submersible systems equipped with different observation instruments. These systems can be deployed in batches to the target sea area and perform task-based adaptive networking to obtain a three-dimensional view of specific targets.

With the new launch, China hopes that artificial intelligence and unmanned operations could improve its maritime surveillance capability at lower cost and with higher efficiency than manned operations. The drone carrier is expected to be delivered by the end of 2022 after completing sea trials.