China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) has launched what may be the world’s first remotely operated drone carrier. Zhu Hai Yun will function primarily as a research vessel, specialising in oceanography, but will also have the capacity for naval operations in the South China Sea.
The vessel was ordered by the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory in Zhuhai (aka Southern Ocean Laboratory), and was constructed at CSSC’s Huangpu Wenchong facility, with the first steel cut in July last year. Measuring 88.5m x 14m, and with an approximate deadweight of 2,000tonnes, the spacious vessel “can carry more than 50 different unmanned systems, including unmanned boats, drones and underwater vehicles, to achieve an integrated ocean expedition”, comments Southern Ocean Laboratory director Chen Dake. These systems will include USVs – some fuelled by diesel, others by wave and solar energy – plus smart profile buoys and underwater gliders.
The vessel is equipped with a pair of A-frames, enabling over-the-side operations, as well as autonomous navigation technology. "The power system, propulsion system, intelligent system and survey operation support system it carries are all made in China, and the core technology can be independently controlled,” explains Fan Lei, chief architect, CSSC Huangpu Wenchong.
It is believed that the vessel will support Southern Ocean Laboratory’s efforts to establish its Intelligent and Agile Ocean 3D Observation System (IMOSOS). This networked system would use a combination of coordinated drones, or ‘multiple nodes’, to monitor a 3D section of the sea, spanning approximately 54nm in diameter and extending 4km into the air and 4km beneath the sea surface. Such coverage would enable tasks ranging from environmental monitoring and offshore wind farm maintenance to foreign submarine detection.
Zhu Hai Yun will be capable of a top speed of 18knots. The vessel is scheduled for delivery by the end of the year, following final outfitting and sea trials.