China's Unmanned "Mini-Destroyer" Out on Sea Trials

Images via Weibo / state media

Published Jan 17, 2020 8:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

The PLA Navy's well-armed unmanned surface vessel has conducted its first sea trials, according to Chinese trade outlet Ordnance Industry Science Technology. 

The 50-foot-long vessel, dubbed JARI, is designed for remote-control or autonomous operation, like many projects developed by western navies and defense contractors. However, it may be unique in possessing all of the core capabilities of a surface combatant (at a small scale).

Its developers say that JARI has a phased-array radar, a sonar suite, a deck gun, two close-range air defense missiles, two vertical-launch silos for small anti-air / anti-ship missiles and two torpedo launch tubes. Given its equipment, Chinese state outlet Global Times has described it in ambitious terms as a combat-ready "mini Aegis-class destroyer." 

JARI's small size and 500-mile range would be a limitation for solo oceangoing service, but it is intended for use as a daughter craft with conventional manned vessels. "The JARI USV can be loaded onto an aircraft carrier or amphibious assault ship to provide their strike groups with extra reconnaissance and attack platforms,” Ordnance Industry Science Technology wrote. Its developers envision that when fully matured as an autonomous platform, it could also be deployed for swarm attacks on enemy surface combatants. It is not a secret program: it has been openly advertised at naval trade shows since at least late 2018, though it has only gained media prominence in recent months.

JARI was developed by state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, which has since merged into China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC). The group is the world's largest shipbuilding conglomerate by backlog.