The U.S. Navy now has an unmanned drone warship. Could it be hacked at sea?

I think those are called, “torpedoes”.


well, you don’t have to speculate. The US military already has a lot of experience here, and while not perfect, they’re pretty good.

The CIA / Air Force have been operating lethal drones for 15 years now, and a LOT of people would love to stop them. And, indeed, these drones have been hacked. For example Iraqi insurgents learned to grab the unencrypted video feed from Predators drones as they patrolled over Iraq. Then the US implemented more encryption. And so on.

But cases of a hostile party taking control of the drone? Rare. Maybe once.

Keep in mind the Navy already maintains a high security communication system that uses lasers talking directly to satellites. Thus, communication with surface ships is already highly secure (submarines are a different story). So while it is true that no humans will be on these ships, it’s a misleading to call these “unmanned.” The men and woman controlling the ship will just be 'off-ship."

Also, the current plan is operate these drones in squadrons around a traditional surface vessel. If something funky seems to be going on, the fully crewed warship will drop by to check on the drone.



These seem so much more vulnerable than aerial drones. If I were Russian or Chinese or Iranian, I would board one of these, catalog and analyze everything, then place a charge that I can remotely detonate at a time of my choosing.

Sail with me if you want to live.


Students Take Control of $80 Million Superyacht Using Fake GPS Signals

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I was on the bridge of a destroyer, transiting a busy shipping area, and I remember listening to them trying to contact a Greek bulk carrier on the radio. This was how they did it- “This is the U.S. Naval vessel calling the unit 11,000 yards from me”. They tried this over and over, then started joking about the “stupid” civilian mariners. Of course the Greek ship does not know what a yard is, much less able to know how far 11,000 of them are. They also probably do not think of themselves as a “unit”, and also expect radio calls to include true or relative position information, or some kind of description of the ships involved. It really struck me that the guys on that destroyer had no idea that they were giving the other ship none of the normal information that would help them understand who they were calling. And they were very arrogant about their own perceived professionalism. It was a perfect Dunning/Kruger effect example.


My point was more of a general notion. Sure, they could have metal pieces and still be utterly devastating to a surface fleet - or for that matter a submarine fleet.

How deep can a boat that doesn’t have to worry about keeping people alive go? I actually have no idea the operating depths of current military subs, but could unmanned subs go deeper and quieter to lurk until needed? Could they shut down or go into a passive mode on the bottom of the ocean for a period of time until called upon? Could they hide in the mud on standby mode until they receive a bit of code that activates them to complete their programs?

Would radar or sonar be able to detect a passive, relatively tiny unmanned torpedo platform buried in the mud at the bottom of a bay or channel? With good batteries it could sit there for years without moving, then one or a fleet of them could come up and sink a bunch of ships ‘all of a sudden’.

Obviously speculative, but I suspect the never-ending naval technological race may be moving into some kind of impassable endgame that makes our current notion of navies absurd (like subs, mines and airplanes made Dreadnoughts obsolete).

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An unmanned system could definitely go deeper. The major limit for crewed subs is the strength of the pressure hull(which leaves you at ~500meters max for a steel design that hasn’t gone full bathyscaphe and sacrificed all the internal space a submarine needs to actually be useful; exotic-and-crazy-expensive titanium designs maybe twice that). If you don’t need to maintain an air-filled compartment, you can avoid substantial pressure differences; quite possibly even to the extent that parts of your hull don’t need to be rigid.

Somebody could have a lot of fun with a sub controlled by an epoxy puck of computer(mostly incompressible, and small enough that it can go in a serious pressure vessel if needed), some batteries(liquid filled, so minimal pressure differences between interior and exterior); and a big bladder of diesel(wouldn’t even have to be rigid and would just gradually deflate as emptied) to run a generator when surfaced(unless corrosion resistant and acceptable to flood, this might also have to be heavily built enough to maintain some voids at depth).

It wouldn’t be quite as dashing as a nuclear attack submarine at full steam; but it could be very, very, patient.

(In the vein of ‘relatively tiny unmanned torpedo platform’, we already have the Mark 60 CAPTOR which is pretty much exactly that, though it doesn’t, yet, have some biomimetic burrowing-into-sediment abilities; but it just sits and listens on the bottom, then launches a torpedo when a deserving vessel approaches.)



We roll alien.

um, that would be an act of war.

No nation-state is going to board a US military vessel without a really strong motivation.

These drone ships will operating alone, but they will be in constant contact. Also, I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the idea is to have these operate around existing traditional warships.

I know the US military sometimes does idiotic things, but do you really think it is staffed by idiots?

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A nation state would be poorly positioned to try; but I wouldn’t entirely discount non-state actors(either motivated by a dislike of Uncle Sam; or the desire to sell the interesting bits of the vessel to a state actor who would very much like a look but can’t afford to be discovered to be involved).

In the open ocean you are probably fine, fewer small craft out there, more lead time on approaching vessels and substantially further for the getaway boat to travel before being able to blend in to some coastline with hostile terrain and weak governance; but there are a number of areas known for their pirates more or less because conditions are favorable for opportunists in small, fast, boats to zip out of one of the zillion wooded estuaries, attempt to board, and then zip back before the local authorities can respond.

It would be risky, and the attackers would have to be able to disable any transmitters and chop out the interesting parts of the ship relatively quickly and get them moving into one of the world’s illicit trade routes; but it would be within the realm of possibility. The US would certainly have a fairly good idea of the approximate area of the disappearance, and would certainly investigate and lean on local authorities to investigate; but contraband certainly makes it past the authorities fairly frequently; and without any bodies, hostages, or a solid link to a state actor the case would probably get stale eventually.

As noted above, I’d assume that at least the software and data storage; and quite possibly some of the hardware, are rigged to resist tampering precisely because this is a fancy prototype that people might want to get a look at, so anyone messing with it would be taking a bet on their ability to circumvent that; but unless they plan to have another ship shadowing the thing for 20-minutes-or-less response time(which would sort of defeat the purpose of building an autonomous sub-tailing ship); getting enough time alone with the thing to do some smash and grab and get away without being positively identified or having to shoot it out with the authorities would be plausible enough.

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good point. These droneships should be kept very close to a supporting vessel when going through the Singapore or Sunda straight.

Which mean subs being tailed will make a point of cruising past such areas.

ahh, the game continues…

I didn’t see any of you guys inventing the entire concept of electronic communication.

The problem is getting them the signal in the first place. Even under optimal circumstances, light can only penetrate a few thousand feet of water, and light is more water-penetrating than the entire rest of the electromagnetic spectrum.* A powerful enough sonic signal can travel a great distance, but it’s gonna be low-bandwidth, possibly distorted, and certainly obvious to any sonar buoy in the same ocean.

*If you’ve ever wondered why we see light and not, say, microwaves or radio waves, this is why. Eyes evolved underwater…


I had thought about that but didn’t want to write a 2000 word post on the internet today. If they used a swarm they could relay the message (creating all kinds of interception hazards).

Alternatively they could be programmed to listen for, and respond to, a series of precisely timed seismic charges or something. Or they could float a very low profile antenna once in awhile. I imagine there are a few solutions that naval people have thought about.

If stealth or area denial/blockading is the goal they could just have a set of preconditions that would be required to activate them. Which of course is the plot of more than one post-apocalyptic sf story (ancient forgotten tech wakes up for some reason and starts doing unexpected damage).

Yes as much as a missile is a UAV. So yes but no.

  1. That event occurred in Iranian Territorial Waters.
  2. It was a major diplomatic incident. The US Secretary of State was on the phone almost immediately.

Quite different from the original scenario being discussed: “hey, nobody’s on board, so we’ll just hop on and take stuff.”

A better example for you would have been the RQ-70 aerial drone that landed in Iranian territory. Which the Iranians eventually gave back.

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