As the U.S. Navy continues to figure out how unmanned drones will play into the future of the fleet, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command began operational testing Sunday of a sailboat-style drone.

The sensor-packed Saildrone Explorer being tested in the Gulf of Aqaba off Jordan could provide the Navy with a relatively inexpensive way to expand its sightline, according to a Navy release announcing the testing.

The drone is 23 feet long and 16 feet tall and relies on wind power to move.

It also houses a sensor package powered by the sun, according to NAVCENT.

The vessel was built by the California-based Saildrone company.

Other surface drones made by the company have gone out on yearlong data collection missions, and one made a “no-handed” voyage from San Francisco to Hawaii in 34 days back in 2013, according to the company.

The Navy hopes the Saildrone’s machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities could provide the fleet with an affordable, zero-carbon tool for seeing over the horizon.

The U.S. Coast Guard began testing Saildrone vessels in the fall of 2020 off Hawaii.

According to the Saildrone company, such vehicles are built for long missions at sea and are equipped with cameras, automated identification receivers and radar or infrared cameras for nocturnal capabilities.

Software onboard recognizes targets of interest and can report those targets back to end users.

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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