SAN DIEGO — The Navy plans to establish a second unmanned surface drone squadron in May, the head of U.S. Pacific Fleet told the West 2024 conference here Wednesday.

“This is not a contractor-owned, contractor-operated capability, but this is a uniformed capability that we’ll be able to own [and] operate unmanned capabilities that can be employed within particular spaces,” Adm. Samuel Paparo said.

The Navy created its first unit dedicated to surface drones, Unmanned Surface Vessel Division 1, in 2022.

Paparo also said the Navy will launch Integrated Battle Problem 24.1 in March, which will pair manned and unmanned capabilities.

He mentioned that prior exercises involved drones traveling 50,000 miles over seven months, as well as experiments involving the placement of SM-6 missile launchers on large surface drones.

Paparo also called the Navy’s unmanned work in various fleet commands “complementary battle labs” that are all pushing toward the same goal of honing unmanned and autonomous operations.

A primary goal of the work is to not unnecessarily risk sailor lives, he said.

“Don’t send a human being to do something dangerous that a machine can do better, faster and more cheaply,” Paparo said. “Ensure that you have the means of control.”

He noted much of this work is done quietly “for the simple reason that we don’t want to expose it to an adversary that would emplace a counter to that capability.”

“A key principle within warfare is the element of operational security,” Paparo said. “So for most exquisite capabilities, if I’m doing my job, you won’t be knowing about it.”

He began his keynote speech with a grim warning about the state of the globe. “The world is increasingly descending into chaos and disorder, and from Europe to the Middle East to the Pacific, we’re seeing significant shifts in state behaviors, and they are not random,” he said.

“At a recent state visit to Moscow, the [People’s Republic of China] president, I won’t utter his name, was overheard telling the Russian president that right now, there are changes the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years, and we are the ones driving those changes together,” Paparo said. “The changes referenced are challenges to our security, our freedom and our well-being.”

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at

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