Last week, China announced its launching of the world’s first crewless drone carrier, which operates using artificial intelligence to navigate open water autonomously. The Chinese government has said that this vessel will be used as a maritime research tool, but many skeptics suggest that it could also be used as a military vessel.

The vessel is about 290 feet long, 45 feet wide and 20 feet deep. It can carry dozens of drones equipped with various observation instruments for air, sea, and underwater. The vessel can also be used to collect data. From a scientific standpoint, China’s drones could collect data from both the surface and subsurface for use in disaster mitigation and environmental monitoring – all without a crew or any direct human interaction on the vessel.

Technologies like this drone-carrying, AI-equipped vessel have dual use applications. In addition to scientific research, such technologies can be used to conduct surveillance and domain awareness.

Vessels like this will transform ocean observation and data collection abilities from the sea. It utilizes the “Intelligent Mobile Ocean Stereo Observing System” which was developed by the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory. It can be controlled remotely and is capable of traveling up to 18 knots per hour (i.e., 20 mph).

The vessel has been unveiled, but China will continue to conduct sea trials before its official use and maiden voyage later in 2022.