The Arlington-based Office of Naval Research demonstrated the autonomous swarm boat technology over two weeks in August on the James River near Fort Eustis in Virginia - not far from one of the Navy's largest fleet concentration areas. It said the Navy simulated a transit through a strait, just like the routine passage of U.S. warships through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.
In the demonstrations, as many as 13 small unmanned patrol boats were escorting a high-value Navy ship. Then as many as eight of the self-guided vessels broke off and swarmed around a threat when a ship playing the part of an enemy vessel was detected, the office said, calling the demonstrations a success.
Robert Brizzolara, program manager at the Office of Naval Research, said that the boats can decide for themselves what movements to make once they're alerted to a threat and work together to encircle or block the path of an opposing vessel, depending on that vessel's movements and those of other nearby vessels.
The rigid-hull inflatable patrol boats can also fire .50 caliber machine guns if called upon to do so. However, a human will always be the one to make the decision to use lethal force, officials said.