World’s First AI-Based Drone Carrier: Is China Gearing Up for War?

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The world’s first AI-Based Drone carrier, China’s Zhu Hai Yun, has military potential

In recent years, the world has seen significant competition between the United States and China, ranging from economic and military dominance to mastery of new developing technology such as Artificial Intelligence. AI is a part of the Fourth Revolution; it is an enabling technology rather than a weapon, allowing for a wide range of applications in both civil and military settings. In this context, AI has emerged as one of the most important facets of the US-China power struggle. Currently, the United States dominates this industry, but recent advances in AI research and development in China have begun to close the gap between the two countries. Unlike the United States, China uses artificial intelligence for both civil and military goals.

The recent launch of Zhu Hai Yun, the world’s first AI-Based Drone carrier, raises doubts about whether such a vessel will be utilized exclusively for maritime research or whether such developing technology could be exported and employed for military purposes. As a mothership, the Zhu Hai Yun is equipped to transport drones, unmanned ships, and submersibles, as well as numerous systems and three-dimensional observation capabilities. It also enables China to collect and possess a full topographic chart including the seabed as well as maritime data for any area of interest. Meanwhile, China is working on a clone of the US Navy’s Sea Hunter unmanned drone submarine, which was deployed in 2016. In this sense, the creation of Zhu Hai Yun, which is entirely built in China, gives China the crucial chance to employ AI-Based Drone carriers in the aerospace and maritime domains.

The Zhu Hai Yun vessel, built by HuangpuWenchong Shipyard in Guangzhou, can be considered an unmanned vessel and AI-Based Drone carrier. Its deck can accommodate unmanned aircraft, surface vessels, and submersibles. In addition, the vessel is outfitted with the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory’s Intelligent Mobile Ocean Stereo Observing System (IMOSOS) (Zhuhai). The IMOSOS system not only gives the ship the ability to undertake maritime environment monitoring, disaster avoidance, and management, but it also aids in the collection of accurate marine data and other marine-related research.

It could run automatically in open waters and be operated remotely if necessary, with a displacement of 2,000 tonnes, a length of 88.5 meters, and a top speed of 18 knots (33 kilometers per hour). As a mothership, it can unleash a swarm of drones for marine research and surveillance, allowing China to better comprehend and collect data on the topography and seabed of any location of interest. Because the seafloor in the Malacca Strait region is uneven, ranging from 90 to 120 feet in some areas, having such a vessel at its disposal could be useful in navigating Chinese naval vessels.

Zhu Hai Yun is a new marine species capable of making revolutionary improvements in ocean observations. Because it entails fewer human activities, the creation of such a vessel improves China’s maritime capabilities while also lowering costs. Zhu Hai Yun also has a three-dimensional dynamic observation system, which provides the drone carrier with a three-dimensional perspective of any target zone. The warships carry a variety of air, sea, and submersible unmanned devices on the deck, which can be used for both civil and military purposes.

 

The AI-powered Zhu Hai Yun’s military potential

Because the vessel is envisioned as a marine-only asset, it has been suggested that it may also be utilized for military applications including the deployment of smart mines. It could be utilized as a platform to deploy unmanned weaponry and surveillance systems in the future, in addition to Zhu Hai Yun’s deployment of drones for marine research. China has made significant investments in recent years to improve its marine defense capabilities, including the construction of numerous facilities to improve ship weapon testing capabilities. In this light, Zhu Hai Yun can also conduct target searching, giving China an advantage over the United States in the South and East China Seas.

The People’s Liberation Navy’s (PLAN) Type 076, the Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD), is currently in the development phase and can carry Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) on its deck. On the other hand, technical advancements are encouraging China and Chinese companies like Yunzhou Tech to construct such vessels. Furthermore, Zhu Hai Yun’s role as a mothership for other drones and unmanned vessels increased the Chinese Navy’s ability to effectively use drone swarming technology against its adversary. Furthermore, China will be able to better visualize navigational routes and the seabed thanks to the three-dimensional dynamic observations system.

It also enables the Chinese Navy to conduct international operations successfully to protect China’s economic and geopolitical interests. Given how well the Zhu Hai Yun could perform, China would have an advantage if a fight arose along its coastline. It was launched against the backdrop of the construction of JARI, a small destroyer-sized uncrewed surface vehicle (USV). With Zhu Hai Yun at its disposal, China will have a greater understanding of the terrain and seafloor of the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

It also allows the Chinese Navy to successfully carry out international operations to safeguard China’s economic and geopolitical interests. Given Zhu Hai Yun’s capabilities, China would have the upper hand if a conflict developed along its coast. It was launched against the backdrop of the creation of JARI, a tiny unmanned surface vehicle the size of a destroyer (USV). China will have a better understanding of the terrain and bottom of the East and South China Seas now that Zhu Hai Yun is at its disposal.

China is now focusing on artificial intelligence (AI) to improve its unmanned warfare systems for reconnaissance and surveillance, as well as to effectively secure its claimed territory. Furthermore, China has successfully used AI technology for both civilian and military goals in recent years. China, for example, has utilized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the East China Sea and the South China Sea region in recent years to improve its deterrence capabilities in any future warfare. China is aiming to avoid any USS Connecticut mishaps with Zhu Hai Yun at its disposal. Because the drone carrier is equipped with a variety of sensors, it may be able to provide a better view of the seabed’s topography, which could be useful during a war. In such a situation, assessing the launch of the Zhu Hai Yun just from the standpoint of maritime research would be insufficient, as we would fail to recognize the vessel’s military utility. China made significant progress in improving its AI skills to create autonomous surface vehicles for maritime security, managing sea lanes, and protecting marine resources for its use.

Because China has no export limits, the US is concerned about the global proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other AI weapons. As a result, the unfettered export of such technology and weaponry in the next years must be considered a source of economic and security worry. Meanwhile, China and the United States are locked in a fierce race for supremacy in the successful use of AI technology in the UAV system, which will only intensify in the future years. The Zhu Hai Yun was launched at a time when relations between the United States and China on the Taiwan issue were strained. The United States and China are currently engaged in a tense great power competition, with the point of friction between the two countries only widening. The development of hypersonic and its defense weapon system, as well as the Uyghur, Hong Kong, and Taiwan concerns, and the events surrounding the latest QUAD conference, have all heightened the US-China relationship in recent years.