CHINA has revealed it is developing a top secret underwater drone designed to track and destroy enemy submarines with no human input.
The unmanned attack robot was first test fired in the Taiwan Strait a decade ago but its existence was not made public until now.
The project to build the drone was funded by the People's Liberation Army and dates back to the 1990s, reports the South China Morning Post.
Under testing, it was reportedly able to detect a dummy submarine, identify its origin and hit it with a torpedo.
The craft is said to rely entirely on artificial intelligence and does not need any instructions from an operator.
Details of the part-declassified project were revealed in an academic paper last week.
Researchers described a 2010 test in the Taiwan Strait in which a drone was programmed to follow a pre-set course around 30ft below the surface.
When its sonar detected another craft, the drone changed course and circled the target, using onboard sensors to gather readings which were analysed by its computer.
It then fired autonomously and hit the dummy submarine with an unarmed torpedo.
Professor Liang Guolong, who led the team, said that with more advanced technology the drones would be able to hunt in packs.
"The needs of future underwater warfare bring new development opportunities for unmanned platforms," the researchers said in their paper, published in the Journal of Harbin Engineering University on Friday.
Observers said the timing of the paper was significant as it comes amid rising fears China might invade self-ruled Taiwan.
It also sends a signal to the US and its allies that any defence of the independent island nation would be fraught with risk.
"It is unclear why China has now declassified details of the test, but the tension over the Taiwan Strait has recently escalated to its highest point in decades," the SCMP report noted.
Last week a state-run paper published a terrifying three stage battle plan laying out how Beijing would overrun Taiwan.
Several countries have developed unmanned submarines, but none has ever been used in combat.
They are most commonly used for underwater surveillance and mapping the sea floor.
Drones were used in the unsuccessful search for missing jet MH370 in the Indian Ocean west of Australia.
Last year Russia unveiled its "city killer" unmanned sub Poseidon as it began sea trials in the Arctic.
The 604ft craft is said to be capable of firing nuclear torpedoes to trigger a radioactive tidal wave that could devastate New York or London.
Meanwhile China is desperate to surpass US and Russia's military tech and is building a chilling array of superweapons including hypersonic missiles so fast they are impossible to stop.
Last week Israel reportedly used the first ever swarm of killer drones to hunt down and kill Hamas terrorists using artificial intelligence.
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