US Navy Xbox controller submarines
Underwater drones could one day assist submarines and warships in battle Reuters

The US Navy has launched its first ever squadron of unmanned undersea vehicles to assist them in battle.

The Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Squadron (UUVRON) will likely be the first of many military units to make use of robots under the sea, according to reports. While there is a fleet of underwater robots put to use by the Navy, they serve a scientific, survey purpose and are operated by the Military Sealift Command for the Naval Oceanographic Office.

UUVRON 1 will take on different duties that include a supportive role with US Navy warships and submarines. According to a Discovery magazine report, it might one day even be used to engage directly with the enemy.

UUVRON 1 is based on DEVRON 5, an unmanned undersea vehicle detachment, which has been in operation for over a year now.

"Today we are transitioning our UUV detachment into the first UUV squadron," said Capt Robert Gaucher, former commander of DEVRON 5, during the launch. "Why is this historical? It's because in standing up UUVRON 1, it shows our Navy's commitment to the future of unmanned systems and undersea combat."

The Navy's drones do not normally get the attention or fanfare that air force drones like the predator or reaper drones get. Naval drones till now, have mostly been tube shaped torpedo looking machines with fins and they almost always go under the media radar.

This might also be because the drones used by the Navy, were usually used to survey the ocean floor. Last year, there was a lot of attention directed towards China seizing a US Navy underwater drone that was conducting surveys. The incident caused further tensions when then president-elect Donald Trump tweeted that China should keep the seized US drone. Eventually, China did return the drone.

The US Navy seems to be intent on expanding the role of drones. One such role could be the development of drones that can detect underwater mines. This is a job that has so far been carried out by sea lions and dolphins because of their ability to detect and find objects underwater, especially if it is murky. A National Geographic report on Combat Dolphins speaks of sea mammals that are being trained to spot and tag mines underwater as well as detect unauthorised swimmers. This programme has been in the US Navy since the 1960s.

The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) on the other hand, wants to build drones that can track and hunt down enemy submarines.