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Could the Orca Autonomous Submarine Forever Change Nuclear War?

An Orca submarine hitting the waters in Huntington Beach, California in April 2022 has likely caused a ripple effect already across the world.

National Interest, by Akash Shah, 19 June 22,  The U.S. Navy has conducted the first in-water test of its Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV) “Orca,” marking a big step toward the future of naval warfare. The idea of an unmanned undersea vehicle in itself is not ground-breaking per se, but the sheer size, payload capacity, and artificial intelligence-driven autonomy are what make Orca-class a game-changer. The eighty-five-foot-long autonomous underwater system is purpose-built to carry out missions such as underwater surveillance and mine laying operations. The U.S Navy intends to enhance the role and capabilities of Orca-class submarines in the future which includes anti-surface, anti-submarine, and electronic warfare missions. An Orca submarine, capable of operating autonomously underwater for thirty days, hitting the waters in Huntington Beach, California in April 2022 has likely caused a ripple effect already across the world.

Although still in the early phase of operation, the possibilities platforms like Orca offer to militaries are likely to impact and reconfigure maritime warfare……………..It might be tempting for some countries to arm underwater platforms like Orca with nuclear warheads in the future………….   some psychological and technical constraints might not let the idea of autonomous unmanned nuclear submarines turn into a reality.

Just the idea of an AI-based robot submarine having the discretion to decide when to launch is absurd, to say nothing of all the things that could go wrong. I asked a high-ranking, retired Pakistani military official, who was closely associated with Pakistan’s nuclear program during his service, whether he sees any underwater autonomous platforms to be used in nuclear conflicts down the road. He instantly replied, “No! Nukes are too serious a business and would never be left at the whim of an AI platform, irrespective of whatever new technology emerges.”

Furthermore, AI systems are trained on huge caches of real-life data pertinent to the domain they are being trained for and actual data of a nuclear conflict is practically non-existent. The only nuclear raids at the end of World War II were not a conflict between two nuclear states and hence serve no purpose regarding second strikes. Based on these premises, it could be said with a higher degree of certainty that no rational international actor would combine a completely autonomous platform with the nuclear warheads. 

One of the crucial elements of a secure second-strike capability is an early warning of incoming nuclear missiles and launch platforms being communicated to strike back. However, communication with a submerged vessel is one of the most challenging aspects of underwater warfare. The stealth feature of a submarine is only viable if it is underwater as the probability of detection and interception increases when it is closer to the surface. This conundrum of communication while maintaining stealthiness is somewhat addressed by using the extremely low frequency of 3 Hz to 30 Hz.

However, in the case of autonomous unmanned submarines carrying nukes, one can never be sure if the transmitted message is conceived in time and in the manner it was intended. When compared with the potential for autonomous underwater platforms to enhance a country’s deterrence capabilities, the risk and cost, if things go wrong, are simply too high.


June 20, 2022 - Posted by | USA, weapons and war

1 Comment »

  1. So evil. Things are so hot. There will be a nuke accident this year. It already occured in nm. 800,000 acres burned. They tested bombs mined and refined uranium there. Plutonium and American inthe Los Alamos water table. Don’t tell me some of that did not go into the air. What pathetic stupid creatures, most humans are.

    Comment by CG | June 20, 2022 | Reply

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