The Chinese military is developing a fleet of new submarines that will navigate the ocean without a human crew, according to scientists involved in the project.
The submersibles will purportedly be relatively large and low-cost compared to other military watercrafts.
The submarines will be powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), allowing them to navigate independently and work alongside existing fleets.
The subs are rumoured to be fitted with diesel-electric engines to enable them to stay at sea for several months without returning to dock.
China will use the unmanned subs for intelligence gathering missions, planting sea mines, and even 'kamikaze'-style attacks on high-value targets, the scientists said.
These missions are scheduled to start in the early 2020s, they added.
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The Chinese military is developing unmanned submarines in a bid to keep up with the advancing technology of the west. The submersibles will be relatively large and low-cost and are to be fitted with AI-technology to allow it to navigate independently (file photo)
According to those familiar with the AI-powered submarine project, who spoke to the South China Morning Post on condition of anonymity, the machines are not set to replace traditional submarines with human crews.
Researchers claim the autonomous subs will work alongside manned fleets.
The machines will purportedly be able to gather information, plant sea mines and be stationed at geographical 'chockpoints' to keep watch for intruding vessels.
Other potential uses for the unmanned watercrafts include being used as decoys to expose the position of an enemy fleet and, if necessary, a 'suicide' mission to destory a particularly high valuable target.
There will be no human operators on board the machines, however, they will be able to establish contact with ground command on a regular basis.
The submarines will be deigned to complete missions independently, but could also be likely to assist in larger missions alongside human-navigated subs.
China has an existing programme in place, with unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) already being tested.
However, these crafts are relatively small and limited in their role.
Existing models also suffer with a relatively a small range and must be deployed and collected by another ship.
The military hopes to improve the technology powering these machines to develop larger models with diesel-electric engines capable of constant energy production for months at the time.
The next-generation will also be able to dock and deploy like their conventional predecessors, researchers claim.
Executive decisions — such a attacking an enemy vessel — will still be made by a human operator but these so-called 'giant UUVs' will be able to make its own decisions for day-to-day operations.
This will include navigating the ocean, changing course and depth to avoid detection, determining the difference between enemy and civilian vessels, as well as the best path to reach a destination.
China is hoping the latest military AI developments will help the country challenge the dominance of the west, and particularly the US, in strategic waters like the South China Sea and western Pacific Ocean.
This project is a single branch of a much larger initiative from the country, which recently increased funding to its armed forces.
Beijing announced earlier this year plans to increase military budget by almost 10 per cent, raising the operating funds from $132 billion to $175 billion.
Researchers claim the autonomous submarines will work in conjunction with manned fleets. They will gather information, plant sea mines and conduct 'kamikaze' missions if necessary while working alongside existing fleets of conventional machines (file photo)
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