China launched the world’s first drone carrier capable of operating on its own on Wednesday. The unmanned ship, which can be controlled remotely and navigate autonomously in open water, will be a powerful tool for the nation to carry out marine scientific research and observation , according to the state-run Science and Technology Daily . It comes as artificial intelligence plays an increasingly important role in maintaining maritime security, controlling sea lanes and competing for marine resources. China aims to use AI technology to expand its maritime influence. Construction of the ship, named Zhu Hai Yun, was started in July last year in Guangzhou by the Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard, a subsidiary of China’s largest shipbuilding company the China State Shipbuilding Corporation. It is expected to be delivered by the end of this year after completing sea trials. The wide deck of the ship can carry dozens of unmanned vehicles, including drones, unmanned ships and submersibles, and the equipment will be able to form a network to observe targets, according to the report. The equipment is part of the vessel’s Intelligent Mobile Ocean Stereo Observing System (IMOSOS) developed by the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Zhuhai). The system is also the world’s first. Science and Technology Daily said it could serve as an efficient tool for marine disaster prevention and mitigation, marine environment monitoring, offshore wind farm maintenance and providing accurate marine information. The ship is 88.5 metres long, 14 metres wide and 6.1 metres deep (290 feet long, 46 feet wide and 20 feet deep), with a designed displacement of 2,000 tonnes. It can sail at a speed of 13 knots, with a top speed of 18 knots. China naval steel order sparks speculation over bigger, faster frigate “The intelligent, unmanned ship is a beautiful, new ‘marine species’ that will bring revolutionary changes for ocean observation,” Chen Dake, director of the laboratory, was quoted as saying by the Science and Technology Daily in 2021 . Fan Lei, chief designer at the Huangpu Wenchong shipyard, said a high proportion of the ship was made locally. “The power systems, propulsion systems, intelligence systems and survey operation support systems equipped are all developed by China,” Fan told the newspaper last year. China is the world’s biggest shipbuilder and it is rising as a “maritime great power”. The country has invested heavily in developing research vessels in recent years. Last year, Zhuhai Yunzhou Intelligence Technology Co, a leading developer of unmanned surface vehicles, announced the company had developed an unmanned high-speed vessel, a breakthrough in its “dynamic cooperation confrontation technology”, according to the state-owned Global Times . The report said the vessel could quickly intercept, besiege and expel invasive targets and it marked a milestone in the development of unmanned maritime intelligence equipment. Chinese drone maker DJI suspends operations in Russia, Ukraine AI and unmanned systems could enhance China’s marine supervision capacity with a low cost and high efficiency, according to experts. China has already widely used unmanned equipment systems in areas such as maritime rescue and marine environment monitoring, Xu Shusheng, a researcher with the South China Sea Administration of the Ministry of Natural Resources, wrote in a paper in 2020. “With the development of 5G technology, China should seize the opportunity and apply the new achievements in the field of marine supervision,” Xu said.