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The US Navy has eighteen Ohio class submarines, and of those, fouteen can be armed with 24 Trident II SLBM nuclear weapons—this means that they are capable of bearing 50% of the United States’ strategic warheads. The subs are each designed to move stealthily at 20 knots, maintain extended patrols without restocking, and carry nine times the ordinance the Allies dropped on Europe during World War II. But now, due to the end of the Cold War, and treaties that have accompanied that end, there are fewer nukes to go around, and there aren’t enough to load up all those Ohios.
So they’re letting out the space to robotic boarders.
Lockheed Martin has designed a new unmanned aircraft designed to fold the wings in so as to fit in those empty Ohio missile tubes, launch from the missile tube from 150 feet underwater (just as the missiles would), and carry out a pre-programmed mission. And they look cool.
The Cormorant is meant to be outfitted with either a surveillance package for spying over any target at short notice and returning multi-spectral pictures and video, or a short-range weapons package that would allow for bombing at short notice. The plane can then be recovered, reloaded, and replaced in a missile tube to be reused.
Because the world of submarines requires stealth for survival, the Cormorant must necessarily be stealthy as well. It would defeat the purpose of the quietude of the sub by allowing people to follow the plane back to base.
Treaties controlling the the propagation and deployment of nuclear arms are generally good for everyone except the purveyors of war. They’ve built an infrastructure for delivering death to any corner of the globe on a moment’s notice, but now they’re told the style of their destruction must not be nuclear. Will robots be the Cuban Missile Crisis of the twenty-first century?
Popular Science Article on the Cormorant