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VENTURA, Calif. - Encased in discreet Navy battleship gray at Port Hueneme is the world's largest destroyer, which can be operated remotely and without anyone onboard. The ship also has a self-defense system, designed to be run remotely.
Navy personnel take the ship out to the waters around San Nicolas Island in the Channel Islands, put it on remote control so it can be operated from a command station at the base, leave the ship and then fire active missiles at it.
The benefit of remotely controlling the ship during attacks is safety, Cmdr. Chris Kenefick said. The ship has never been hit, according to Mike Wolfe, the ship's hull mechanical and electrical lead.
"That way we don't endanger personnel but we bring first-class weapons testing and research and development to the fleet," Kenefick said.
Naval Base Ventura County and its Point Mugu site in particular see themselves as a hub for unmanned systems as several of the technologies head to the base, which is expanding its capabilities to accommodate the emerging drone industry.
"Developing unmanned systems is key," Capt. Lawrence Vasquez, commander of the base, told the audience. "We are just a hub for unmanned systems here at Point Mugu."
The capabilities of the base, particularly the 36,000 square miles of restricted airspace that the Navy operates, are "very, very unique and not to be found anywhere else in the U.S.," Vasquez said. The Navy also has access to corridors of airspace over Santa Barbara, and the naval facility at China Lake in the Mojave Desert that can be used for testing.
In its former military life, the 563-foot-long ship robotic destroyer was the Paul F. Foster. It is the third ship tested by the Port Hueneme base, said Roger Yoshida, branch manager of the land and sea test department.
The Navy performs 40 to 50 tests a year, Wolfe said. The tests check out new and upgraded equipment and see that older equipment is still working before a deployment, Vasquez said.
A few miles up the coast, Point Mugu is preparing to host four Triton Unmanned Aircraft Systems -- remotely controlled, unarmed drones with 131-foot wingspans that will do marine reconnaissance. The operation, which includes becoming a maintenance base for the aircraft, will bring about 700 personnel to the base starting in the summer, Vasquez said.
Also coming to the base will be the Black Dart program to test unmanned aerial systems and the Unmanned Combat Air System program, Vasquez said.
Additionally, the naval base will receive Fire Scouts, drone helicopters made by Northrop Grumman.
"I see it as a complement to manned aviation, at least at first," Vasquez said.
Anthony Mireles, president of the Ventura-based Southern California District Council of Laborers' Local Union 585, attended because he senses the potential of jobs for the local construction workers the union represents.
"We want to be there at the very beginning," Mireles said.
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