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Durham University

Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Dr Elizabeth Johnson

Johnson, Elizabeth R. The Hydra and Leviathan: Unmanned Maritime Vehicles and the Militarized Seaspace. In: Braverman, Irus & Johnson, Elizabeth R. Blue Legalities: The Life and Law of the Sea. Durham, NC: Duke University Press; 2019.

Author(s) from Durham


Just as aerial drones precipitated a shift in the logics and spaces of war, the rise of sea-going autonomous vehicles are changing military engagement in the ocean. In this chapter, Johnson considers how the rise of machinic warfare is reconstituting the relationship between the sovereign state and the making of a life in common through technological innovation. The chapter contrasts visions of our geopolitical future attached to the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s Unmanned Marine Vehicle (UMV) program, the Hydra project, with conventional understandings of sovereign power and the commonwealth. Johnson argues that, within U.S. defense programs envision and actively attempt to make the sea an “operational” environment. In doing so, she suggests, they enact the sea as a site of anticipated future actions as well as resurgent histories. These visions reshape who and what constitutes our common world—and our future.