China Claims Inducting World’s 1st Unmanned Drone Carrier That Can Function Completely On Its Own

The Zhu Hai Yun, the first seaborne drone carrier in the world that can function independently, was delivered in China’s Zhuhai on January 12. The delivery comes almost eight months after the vessel was launched in May 2022.

After a year and a half of development, the Zhu Hai Yun finally arrived in its home port of Zhuhai Gaolan port in South China’s Guangdong Province. The Zhu Hai Yun is the first unmanned system scientific research ship with autonomous navigation and remote-control functions.

The fact that the unmanned carrier has a remote control means that it is capable of independent open-water navigation. It was constructed under the supervision of the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Zhuhai) and has been awarded the first intelligent ship certificate by the China Classification Society (CCS).

As per plans, the ship is expected to conduct a scientific study on the ocean and make other observations, state-run Global Times reported. Further, the vessel arrived at the port after extensive sea trials that established the prowess of this autonomous carrier.

The director of the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory, Chen Dake, said, “This is the first professional sea trial of the Zhu Hai Yun, which aims to test its autonomous navigation performance and the launching of the unmanned craft.”

According to reports in the Chinese media, the drone carrier vessel completed 12 hours of autonomous navigation and learned how to avoid obstacles and plan a route. It accomplished the intended result and approved the design, said Chen.

Previously, in May last year, the vessel was first unveiled by Beijing. However, the construction of the Zhu Hai Yun began in July 2021 in Guangzhou by the Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard, a subsidiary of China’s largest shipbuilding company, the China State Shipbuilding Corporation. At the time of its launch, there were reports that the vessel would be delivered by the end of 2022, but there may have been a delay.

According to Science and Technology Daily, the carrier is the first of its kind in the world. It could monitor the maritime environment, prevent and mitigate marine disasters, maintain offshore wind farms, and give accurate marine information.

However, the importance of having a drone carrier mothership like the Zhu Hai Yun is not lost on the PLA. The Chinese PLA Navy has been working on the Type 076 landing helicopter dock (LHD), which is under development and said to be capable of carrying Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs).

Even though the Zhu Hai Yun has been designed for civil use, some experts have expressed skepticism and believe that it could be a prelude to the Type 076 vessel, which will play the role of a drone mothership in the PLA Navy.

What Do We Know About The Zhu Hai Yun?

The ship has a designed displacement of 2,000 tons and measures 88.5 meters long, 14 meters wide, and 6.1 meters deep. With a top speed of 18 knots (33 kilometers per hour), it can sail at 13 knots (24 kilometers per hour).

Numerous unmanned devices, including drones, unmanned ships, and submarines, can be transported on the ship’s spacious deck thanks to its Intelligent Mobile Ocean Stereo Observing System (IMOSOS), developed by the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Zhuhai).

According to some military experts, the Chinese military might also employ drone mothership to gather intelligence in the disputed South China Sea, where numerous nations have claimed conflicting territorial claims. China has been stepping up its military presence and making more adamant claims of sovereignty over the sea in recent years.

Zhu Hai Yun
Zhu Hai Yun

Since the vessel is designed to collect data, it has the potential to become a potent intelligence tool.

Besides the Zhu Hai Yun, China has made significant investments in various unmanned platforms, including drones and autonomous vehicles, to bolster the position of its Navy. For instance, the PLA has directed its efforts to build cutting-edge Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs).

For instance, the Chinese PLA Navy has also been working on an uncrewed surface vessel (USV), known as JARI, developed by China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC).

The small 15.24 meter-long craft’s ambitious armaments and sensors are comparable to a mini-destroyer. It will have two lightweight torpedo tubes, a compact vertical launch system (VLS) for surface-to-air missiles with a remote weapons station (RWS), phased-array radars, electro-optical devices, and sonar will be some of its sensors.

China has the world’s largest shipbuilding industry. The induction of the Zhu Hai Yun is projected as a breakthrough moment and a vindication of China’s “research vessel” development effort.