Textron, US Navy are loading guns and missiles on their unmanned mine hunting boat
By: David B. Larter January 11 2018
A common unmanned surface vehicle patrols for intruders during Trident Warrior 2011. (Photo by MCSN Scott Youngblood)
ARLINGTON, Va. – Textron is planning to load up on guns and missiles for its Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle, or CUSV.
The 39-foot CUSV, which is developed to perform mine sweeping and countermeasures for the mine warfare package on the littoral combat ship, is getting ready to be developed further with new lethal and non-lethal payloads, which could be anything from a missile to a remotely operated gun system, such as the FN Herstal’s “Sea deFNder.”
Textron has signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the Surface Warfare Development Center in Dahlgren, Virginia, to pursue the project.
“We’ve been starting to work on ’Well, what else can you use this system for?’ ” said Wayne Prender, Textron’s senior vice president of control and surface systems. “It clearly has more capability, we designed it with flexible, common systems in place. And that’s where we’ll begin exploring with the U.S. Navy through this CRADA that we’ve signed.”
The CUSV is designed to launch from the littoral combat ship and operate within line-of-sight, though Textron says it can operate over the horizon as well with satellite communications links.
The idea of putting a gun or a missile on an unmanned vehicle like a CUSV is appealing – the Israelis use a similar system for port security – but it presents an array of engineering challenges, said Bryan Clark, a retired submariner and analyst with Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The problem with remotely operated machine guns on a boat about the same size as a standard rigid-hulled inflatable boat is stability, he said. The operator will be using a camera to target the gun remotely, which will have a limited rage of view, plus the boat will be unstable in choppy waters, which means it won’t be very accurate.
“It’s pretty scary, seeing a boat driving around with a big machine gun on it, but its not a great latch-up,” Clark said. “It’s more of a deterrent than a capability that would be effective.”
Adding a missile, such as Raytheon’s AGM-176 Griffin or the Hellfire, might be a better bet if it has an infrared sensor or was GPS guided, Clark continued, but even then if the missile comes out at a strange angle because of choppy swells, it might not be so easy.
Aquabotix’s SwarmDiver begins testing at US Navy Undersea Warfare Center June 18, 2018
Unmanned underwater vehicle developer Aquabotix announced it has entered a special purpose cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the US Navy to start testing of its SwarmDiver micro swarming unmanned surface vehicle (USV).
The CRADA with Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport will allow Aquabotix to gain access to the Narragansett Bay test facility, including its ranges and personnel, to test and demonstrate its SwarmDiver product and other relevant technologies.
Division Newport of NUWC is a Federal laboratory of the United States Department of Navy whose substantial purpose is the performance of research, development, and engineering.
“We are honored to be co-operating with the United States Navy and believe that SwarmDiverTM can be a game changer for the US and allied naval operations,” Whitney Million, Aquabotix’s CEO, said.
The SwarmDiver USV is capable of diving to 50 meters and swarming in groups of 40 or more vehicles. The swarming algorithm allows vehicles to communicate with each other to make decisions as a group. According to the company, the SwarmDiver is capable of quickly and accurately self-arranging in various swarm formations as well as dive simultaneously to collect synoptic data sets.
A video shared by the company shows the SwarmDiver concept in action.
China advances Marine Lizard amphibious USV development Kelvin Wong, Singapore - Jane's International Defence Review
14 April 2019
The full-scale prototype hull of the Marine Lizard amphibious combat USV seen during its public debut at Airshow China 2018. Source: IHS Markit/Kelvin Wong
Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group, a Wuhan-based subsidiary of the state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Company (CSIC), has delivered the first pre-production hull for the Marine Lizard amphibious combat unmanned surface vessel (USV) following successful factory acceptance tests at its Shuangliu shipyard, CSIC announced on 8 April.
The partially completed hull, constructed by Wuchang Shipbuilding's Module Company division and furnished with a twin waterjet propulsion system, was handed over to Qingdao Wujiang Technology Company for systems integration and further development.
A full-scale prototype of the Marine Lizard USV was first unveiled at the Airshow China exhibition in November 2018 by Qingdao-based unmanned platform control and navigation systems developer Zhongbang Intelligent Technology (ZB Intelligence), which was set up in 2017 by a team of former engineers from state-owned and private companies. Jane's earlier reported that ZB Intelligence's products include the Nob-X unified USV control and navigation system, a software-based interface that enables the operator to control multiple unmanned surface and subsurface platforms.
It is understood that the Marine Lizard USV is under joint development by Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group and Qingdao Wujiang Technology Company.
The prototype sea vehicle is constructed from aluminium alloy and adopts a 12-13.5 m long and 4.14-m wide trimaran hullform with a design displacement and draft of 14.7 tonnes and 0.55 m respectively. According to Wuchang Shipbuilding, the hull comprises "thousands" of aluminium alloy plates that are 5-8 mm thick and bonded together using novel fitting and welding processes designed to minimise plate deformation and other production defects.
It is equipped with a hybrid-electric propulsion system - centred on a pair of marine diesel generators of undisclosed output - that power the four electric track units installed under each corner of the hull.
The track units are independently driven and enable the USV to travel on land at a maximum speed of 20 km/h depending on terrain conditions.
AAI nets $20.5M for mine sweep system on Littoral Combat Ships The Unmanned Influence Sweep System Unmanned Surface Vehicle program allows the LCS to sweep for acoustic, magnetic and combination-type mines.
By Allen Cone
MAY 3, 2019
The littoral combat ship mission module program tests the in-port launch and recovery of an unmanned surface vehicle during integration testing of the unmanned influence sweep system of littoral combat ship USS Independence in San Diego. Photo by Steen Jensen/Naval Surface Warfare Center
May 3 (UPI) -- AAI Corp. was awarded a $20.5 million contract for engineering and technical services for the unmanned influence sweep system, which allows the Navy's Littoral Combat Ships to perform mine warfare sweep missions.
Work is expected to be completed by this September, including 70 percent in AAI's plant in Hunt Valley, Md., and 30 percent in Slidell, La., the Defense Department announced Thursday.
The system, which is part of the mine countermeasures mission package, allows LCS crews to sweep for acoustic, magnetic, and magnetic/acoustic combination mine types.
The UISS program will satisfy the Navy's need to conduct rapid, wide-area mine clearance, according to the Navy.
In January, the UISS, as well as the Knifefish, another unmanned undersea vehicle, completed successful testing aboard the USS Independence.
Both systems verified the communications link between Independence and the unmanned systems, as well as executed multiple launch and recovery evolutions from the ship.
"These test events mark a critical milestone for the LCS Mission Module Program, having now successfully tested each vehicle in the MCM MP -- that is, an MH-60S helicopter, MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, UISS and Knifefish UUV -- on board an Independence-variant LCS," the Navy said in a news release.
These systems then will undergo shore-based testing before completing final integration on an LCS. The LCS Mission Module program office plans to incrementally deliver MCM MP systems to the fleet in advance of the formal MCM MP initial operational test and evaluation events beginning in 2021.
Navy fiscal 2019 research, development, test and evaluation funding in the amount of $7.7 million has been obligated when the new contract was awarded, and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
On Thursday, Huntington Ingalls Industries received a $931.7 million contract from the U.S. Navy for planning yard services to support littoral combat ships. The planning yard services include post-delivery life-cycle support, maintenance development and scheduling, and modernization planning, engineering and material support, the company said.
There are two versions of the LCS -- the Freedom variant, built by Lockheed Martin and Marinette Marine, and the Independence variant, built by General Dynamics and Austal USA. The Navy has 33 LCS vessels planned, under construction or in service.
AAI Corp. was awarded a $20.5 million contract for engineering and technical services for the unmanned influence sweep system, which allows the Navy's Littoral Combat Ships to perform mine warfare sweep missions.
A classified Pentagon maritime drone program is about to get its moment in the sun
By: David B. Larter
March 14, 2019
A rendering of the Sea Hunter unmanned surface ship developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. A separate program aimed at developing a lethal unmanned surface vessel is producing a nearly $3 billion program announced in the Navy's FY2020 budget roll out. (DARPA)
WASHINGTON – A project birthed in the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office is getting some serious buy-in from the U.S. Navy, and could yield the world’s first large-scale armed unmanned warship.
The Navy raised eyebrows in its budget rollout Tuesday when it requested $400 million for two large unmanned surface vessels to be purchased in 2020, with 10 total to be purchased across the five-year projection known as the future year defense program. But it was not immediately clear what exactly the Navy was buying two of, since no program of record exists for a large unmanned surface vessel (or LUSV).
Navy officials now say the request is an outgrowth of SCO’s Project Overlord, which first surfaced in 2017 with a draft solicitation outlining a program that would take existing autonomy technologies and integrate them into large and medium unmanned surface vessels with some heady ambitions: an autonomous ship capable of carrying up to 40 tons of payloads, and operate in up to sea-state five independently for 90 days without a crew for maintenance, while following all rules of navigation and obstacle avoidance.
The elevation of SCO’s Overlord program from science project to fast-tracked acquisition reflects both the Navy’s growing confidence in its ability to make the technology work and the urgency it feels to field technologies that can combat a growing threat from anti-access area denial technologies designed to keep the Navy’s powerful strike arm far from the shores of potential adversaries.
It’s an effort the Navy is ready to put some significant investment into. In total, the service has programmed $2.7 billion across the FYDP. And on Wednesday evening, the Navy dropped a request for information from industry seeking to “determine if sources exist that are capable of satisfying the Navy’s anticipated program requirement for Large Unmanned Surface Vessels (LUSV).”
The Navy’s top officer Adm. John Richardson said he wants the force to move aggressively on getting the LUSV to the fleet, and compared it to the unmanned aerial refueling drone, the MQ-25, one of his top priorities as chief of naval operations.
“I would liken this to the surface vessel version of where we picked up on MQ-25,” Richardson told a roundtable of reporters on Wednesday. “We are moving very aggressively to get something on deck in unmanned aviation, and we were able to do that very quickly by taking advantage of what we’d learned in that field to date, bringing industry in early, so we’re going to be using a lot of those practices.
“This seems like kind of the next natural step. We want to move it out of the skunkworks phase and into the operational phase as soon as possible.”
Richardson pointed to recent strides the service has made in the unmanned surface vehicle realm with the Sea Hunter program, which recently transferred from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to the Office of Naval Research, as evidence of the Navy’s progress toward fielding unmanned warships. The LUSV program, however, is a separate effort.
The Navy announced in February that Sea Hunter navigated autonomously to Hawaii and back.
The Overlord program from which the Navy hopes to derive its new large unmanned robot warship is the child of the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, a workshop under the auspices of the Office of the Secretary of Defense that seeks to add funky new capabilities to existing gear and weapons.
But its work on autonomous surface vehicles has been less front-and-center.
According the 2017 draft plan, Overlord is seeking a ship that can do virtually everything a larger manned vessel can do – obey the international rules of the road for navigation, plan a route for a mission, communicate with other ships (manned or otherwise) in a task force – and do it with very little interaction with sailors once it gets underway.
“The Overlord program will develop core autonomy, communications, and C2 components and field prototype USVs capable of being seamlessly operable with the fleet,” the draft says. "The Overlord program will have built in redundancy in all critical hardware and software systems. The program will involve integration and test of payloads for [electronic warfare], [anit-surface warfare], and [strike warfare].”
The program, in keeping with SCO’s modus operandi, places an emphasis on using and adapting existing vehicles and technologies, the draft says, and “will take advantage of commercial technologies, integrate existing vehicle designs, and mature existing autonomy capabilities to accomplish its goals.”
The draft lays out a two-phase plan that starts with a 12-month phase I, which asks industry to demonstrate a vehicle that could meet the requirements laid out in the draft, including a range of 4,500 nautical miles, “capable of operating in at least Sea State 5, with at least 80,000 lbs. of payload capacity and 75 kW of 450V, 60 Hz, three-phase AC power reserved for payloads."
The second phase of the program is a down-select to the most competitive entries for further testing and integration, shifting from the unclassified phase I to a “Secret”-classified phase II.
Naval Sea Systems Command declined to respond to questions about the progress of Project Overlord, citing operational security, but acknowledged the LUSVs being acquired in the 2020 budget are an outgrowth of Overlord.
The new LUSV will be critical to operating in a distributed way in the future, NAVSEA spokesman Alan Baribeau said.
“LUSVs will provide relatively low-cost, high-endurance, reconfigurable ships able to accommodate various payloads for unmanned missions to augment the Navy’s manned surface force,” he said in a statement.
The request for information released Wednesday that seeks more inputs on vehicles from industry is continuing of the effort started with Overlord, said Danny Hernandez, a spokesman for the Navy’s Research, Development and Acquisition office.
“Overlord Vessels were experimental efforts," Hernandez said. “The RFI is a separate effort from Overlord that will launch the LUSV prototyping project."
In the Navy’s fiscal year 2020 budget rollout, the Navy’s budget director told reporters that the large surface combatant, part of what the Navy is terming its “ghost fleet,” would be about a third the size of the FFG(X), which could displace upwards of 6,000 tons.
“They are 200 to 300-foot, 2,000 ton [hulls],” said Rear Adm. Randy Crites. “I’m not sure what the final hull form will be, that’s what we’re using today in terms of what the ‘ghost fleet’ buy is. But I don’t think we know yet exactly what the hull form will be.”
The Navy is adamant that, even without a fully fleshed out requirement, it needs to move fast to get these capabilities into the fleet.
“We've got to get through the details of concept of operations, command control – how is it going to work in a distributed environment,” Crites said. “But we need these test articles and we need to bring these things on quickly so that we can actually see how this is going to work.”
The path the Navy is treading could upend how the fleet has fought since the Cold War. The CNO’s surface warfare director previewed what the surface fleet has in mind in a December interview with Defense News.
Boxall laid out a vision for pushing as much capability to smaller, distributed and unmanned ships as possible, and using the larger ships as command and control for the ghost fleet.
“Today, I have a requirement for 104 large surface combatants in the force structure assessment; I have 52 small surface combatants,” said Surface Warfare Director Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall. “That’s a little upside down. Should I push out here and have more small platforms? I think the future fleet architecture study has intimated ‘yes,’ and our war gaming shows there is value in that.”
The paradigm shift is moving the fleet away from platforms like the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers — enormous, tightly packed ships bristling with capabilities, weapons and sensors, but enormously expensive to build, maintain and upgrade.
“It’s a shift in mindset that says, instead of putting as much stuff on the ship for as much money as I have, you start thinking in a different way,” Boxall said in a December interview. “You start saying: ‘How small can my platform be to get everything I need to be on it?’
“We want everything to be only as big as it needs to be. You make it smaller and more distributable, given all dollars being about equal. And when I look at the force, I think: ‘Where can we use unmanned so that I can push it to a smaller platform?’”
“Distributed” is the key word in a new concept the Navy is developing to counter China’s increasing grip on the South and East China seas. Though public details of what the Navy is calling “distributed maritime operations” are scant, it seems to stem from an idea that was developed inside the surface Navy, known as “distributed lethality.” The idea was to put the Navy’s surface combatants back on the offensive, spreading out to stretch Chinese intelligence and surveillance assets and leave openings for offensive strikes.
NAVSEA said in its statement that the LUSV would be a key component of distributed maritime operations.
“LUSVs will provide relatively low-cost, high-endurance, reconfigurable ships able to accommodate various payloads for unmanned missions to augment the Navy’s manned surface force," Baribeau said. “LUSV is a key enabler of the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept, which includes being able to forward deploy (alone or in teams/groups), team with individual manned combatants, or augment battle groups with an LUSV-distributed Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) and Strike capacity.”
Secure, Fast and with Enough Bandwidth?
That kind of integration with the fleet – where lethal capabilities heretofore reserved for manned warships are outsourced to robot ships controlled by humans on larger crewed vessels – is integral to the Project Overlord vision as laid out in the draft proposal.
But it’s also something that is immensely hard to pull off, especially in a contested environment where communications will be both targeted and exploited by adversaries looking for targets, experts say.
“You could communicate via satellite, but then that’s vulnerable to the same anti-access, area-denial (A2AD) disruptions that you would normally have to worry about,” said Michael Horowitz, an expert in unmanned systems and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
“You could have localized sensor nets. Then you need a way to link that data back to the human-piloted system. You need some way to get the information back to humans and that’s going to be a key vulnerability.”
There is also a problem with the sheer volume of data you would need to transmit over nets, presumably relayed through either communications relay drones or other ships (nodes) in the network, Horowitz said.
“The weak point is whether you can extend your sensors – your robotic connectivity,” Horowitz continued. “If you think about it like a chain that, say, goes all the way back to a carrier that’s really far away, or a cruiser. … Remotely piloted systems, that requires a lot of bandwidth. The more nodes you have, the more you increase the risk that an adversary can disrupt you by knocking one of them out.
“So, you deploy it as a net so that any one node isn’t critical, but then you need to deploy a lot of them.”
And scale is a problem because none of this technology is cheap, Horowitz said.
“It requires ever-greater miniaturization, in terms of munitions, power, etc.,” he said, “depending on how small you want these platforms to be. If what you’re talking about is Sea Hunter size, well, the question is could you scale Sea Hunter today? I think the production costs would likely be pretty high.
“I think the key will be driving down the costs of producing some of these platforms.”
Still, the value of pursuing the vision has significant potential, he added.
“I think it makes sense to invest in this kind of capability,” Horowitz said. “Will it pan out in a way that is secure and fast and with big enough band width? These are the challenges.”
US Navy looks to ease into using unmanned robot ships with a manned crew
By: David B. Larter
January 29, 2019
The U.S.Navy has been developing its tactics and procedures for employing unmanned surface vessels with the Sea Hunter drone developed by DARPA. (U.S. Navy)
WASHINGTON — Large and medium-sized unmanned surface combatants under development by the U.S. Navy will likely have crews aboard, at least at first.
As the force looks to integrate more unmanned surface vessels into its future fleet, the ships will likely have sailors aboard, at least in the near term while the Navy gets comfortable with new construct, said the Chief of Naval Operations N96 office’s surface warfare director, Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, in an interview with Defense News last month.
“I expect it won’t be immediately unmanned,” Boxall said. “We’re going to design these things with the idea that we’re going to put people on them in the near term. Then maybe move toward fully unmanned when we think the technology and the understanding of how we will use them matures.”
Boxall said the Navy will need to build trust in unmanned platforms with, for example, the Coast Guard, which is responsible for enforcing safe navigation rules in and around U.S. waters, but that the force needed to be ready for a future where unmanned surface vessels can serve as sensors and shooters in a distributed network of ships.
“We don’t want to wait for that future, we want to be ready when that gets here,” Boxall said.
The concept behind using unmanned ships is part of the “distributed maritime operations” construct the Navy is developing as it prepares to square off with near-peer competitors China and Russia.
In high-end fights, anything putting out an identifiable electronic signal, such as high-energy, anti-air radars, will be vulnerable to electronic intelligence and surveillance equipment. The Navy is looking to mitigate that risk using unmanned ships that can serve as sensors and shooters but also protect larger manned surface combatants.
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In this construct, the humans on manned platforms such as the FFG(X) future frigate and the new large surface combatant would act as command and control — and perhaps be able to stay passive and allow their drones to do the sensing and shooting.
According to Naval Sea Systems Command, the service is working on several unmanned surface drones that can enable this kind of networked warfare. A NAVSEA presentation at the annual Surface Navy Association symposium put forward details on the unmanned surface systems on which it is working:
A large unmanned surface vehicle, or USV, that can distribute large sensors and fires.
Medium-sized USVs that can carry smaller sensors and perhaps electronic warfare equipment.
Small USVs that can tow mine-hunting equipment, as well as work to relay communications to their human overlords on manned surface combatants.
Even smaller USVs that can work as communications relays as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.
Developing unmanned surface vessels is a key part of an agreement with NATO allies signed in July, according to a release from October.
“The use of unmanned systems is a potentially game changing leap forward in maritime technology,” the release read. “Working alongside traditional naval assets, these unmanned systems will increase both our situational awareness and our control of the seas.”
The more unmanned vessels the surface fleet can integrate, the less the Navy will depend on massive, multimission surface combatants bristling with sensors and weapons, Boxall said.
“It’s a shift in mindset that says: Instead of putting as much stuff on the ship for as much money as I have, you start thinking in a different way,” Boxall said. “You start saying: ‘How small can my platform be to get everything I need to be on it?’
“We want everything to be only as big as it needs to be. You make it smaller and more distributable, given all dollars being about equal. And when I look at the force, I think: ‘Where can we use unmanned so that I can push it to a smaller platform?’ "
This is expected to be one of the things the Navy is looking to get out of its upcoming request for information from industry, currently being developed by Boxall’s N96 shop. It’s unclear when that RFI will be released.
In order to get to that future, NAVSEA is going to be chipping away at a few important areas, including:
Safety, reliability and autonomous navigation.
The ability to launch and recover offboard sensors such as mine-hunting drones from USVs.
Integrating USVs with manned host platforms, which control the USVs from a distance.
“We’ve got Sea Hunter out there today, and we’ve done some incredible things with [it] in terms of its autonomy: teaching it how to get from point A to point B safely,” Boxall said. “We’re learning about reliability of engineering. We’re learning about how to interact with [Sea Hunter] in terms of different payloads — what should we put on those things?
“We don’t think this should be very expensive, and we don’t think it should be hard to do.”
With billions planned in funding, the US Navy charts its unmanned future
By: David B. Larter
WASHINGTON — With the U.S. Navy poised to dive headlong into a future of robotic ships, the surface fleet is preparing to map out how best it can employ new unmanned sidekicks against potential adversaries Russia and China.
At the Coronado, California, headquarters of the Navy’s top surface warfare officer, the staff is cobbling together a plan stand up a development squadron to experiment with new technology for which the Navy has requested $2.7 billion for the next five years.
“That’s happening,” Vice Adm. Richard Brown, the head of naval surface forces in the Pacific, said in a recent interview. “We’re going to have large [unmanned surface vessels], we’re going to have medium-displacement USVs. I’ve got Sea Hunter running around. I’ve got no place to put those things. That was the impetus behind the development of the Surface Development Squadron.”
The Sea Hunter is an unmanned vessel developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The surface Navy is on the precipice of launching into a very different future than the Aegis fleet of the late 1970s, the 1980s and the post-Cold War era. It’s a future that eschews the ballooning costs of packing evermore sophisticated strike, air defense, counter-electronic warfare, counter-surface and counter-submarine technologies into massive manned combatants that cost billions of dollars.
The Navy wants to prepare for a future where off-board aerial, surface and subsurface drones with sophisticated sensors search for, detect and engage enemy combatants, submarines and aircraft with humans in the loop who are based on manned combatants that attempt to stay undetected.
The problem is the Navy doesn’t know how to do that or how it would introduce those technologies into a fleet that has for the most part fought the same way since the Cold War.
“We’ve got to figure out command and control,” Brown said. “We’ve got to figure out the man, train and equip aspects — there’s got to be an administrative commander in charge of them, got to be a guy who equips those things, got to be a guy who oversees the training of the people who interact with and use the USVs.”
That is a tall order, and Brown and his staff are relying on the Surface Development Squadron, or SURFDEVRON, to figure it out.
“Let’s say I have a ship going over the horizon and it has three USVs it’s operating with. I’ve got to have a ship that’s manned and trained to operate those USVs, and that ship has to be equipped with the comms architecture, and I’ve got to make sure the USVs are manned, trained and equipped," Brown said. “Right now I don’t even know what that looks like. We are going to experiment the hell out of it in the SURFDEVRON.”
The development squadron, which mirrors similar efforts in the submarine and aviation communities, will also be responsible for developing the three new stealth destroyers, which the Navy sees as highly capable platforms that can be used to develop new concepts. Alongside the Zumwalt-class destroyers, the Navy plans to place the Sea Hunter under the auspices of SURFDEVRON, Brown said.
The development squadron aims to speed up the pace of experimentation in the fleet and empower the squadron’s officers to integrate new technologies into naval platforms. This is crucial to the Navy’s forthcoming “distributed maritime operations” concept meant to counter rising threats, primarily from China, in the vast expanse of the western Pacific.
“The surface force has been key in the [distributed maritime operations] discussion because there is an incredible amount of firepower located on our ships,” Brown said. “But once you buy into a distributed maritime operations concept, you’ve got to experiment, you’ve got to work it out. And what better place to do that than the SURFDEVRON? … You need platforms.”
Providing the squadron with ships, such as the Zumwalt, the destroyer Michael Monsoor and the Sea Hunter, will allow ideas to flourish rather than die on the vine.
“Someone has an idea for this new laser, it will take you two years to get the approval process,” Brown said. “Look at the laser we are trying to put on [the amphibious transport dock] Portland: We’ve been talking about that since I’ve been in this job. It’s still not on there.
“[With SURFDEVRON], I think we’re talking about weeks to months — it’s this idea of rapid acceleration of experimentation.”
The speed at which the Navy moved on efforts for unmanned surface vessels, as reflected in this year’s budget proposal, raised questions about whether the technology pursued by the Navy is mature enough to be reliable in a fight.
But with prototypes such as Sea Hunter already performing complicated tasks at sea, the state of technology is less a barrier that previous thought, said Bryan Clark, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a retired submarine officer.
The Navy’s goals for the first large USVs are limited, Clark said, and developing the platforms makes sense.
“The state of technology, especially for unmanned surface vessels, I don’t think that’s the issue,” he said. “The technology is mature enough to support what the Navy wants to do with these vehicles, especially the initial set of missions because they are going to be done in concert with manned platforms. So you’ll have the ability to have people manage them as opposed to being independent steamers.”
The way the Navy pursues USVs makes sense as well, Clark said. The service wants to buy eight large USVs, each about 2,000 tons with the ability to autonomously navigate waters. The drones would be equipped with enough space, power and cooling to host a variety of different systems. The service also plans to develop a smaller, medium-sized USV.
“Is this 2,000-ton large surface vessel the right vessel?” Clark asked. “And I think given the fact that it’s more or less a hull or a truck — that’s how the Navy is looking at it — there’s less risk of buyer’s remorse to say: ‘Well, I wish I’d designed it very differently.’ Because if it’s a truck and it’s got at least the space and weight [and] cooling you need, you can pretty much cover any [concept of operations] you might envision for it.”
Another question is whether the Navy can develop a reliable communications network as a way to link to distant unmanned vessels. One benefit of distributing sensors is that detectable electronic signals are a considerable distance from the manned platform, meaning that platform has the advantage of active radars but without exposing itself to adversaries armed with signal-sniffing equipment.
In a distributed construct, the drones spread out across an area while the manned ship passively receives the data at a distance. But it’s a challenge to accomplish that in environments where an adversary such as China or Russia actively jams communications signals.
However, it’s a challenge the Navy must address, said Bob Work, the former deputy secretary of defense who championed unmanned technologies under the Obama administration.
“This is like carrier aviation in the interwar period,” Work said. “This is an integration problem with systems that ultimately are going to change the way the Navy fights and considers combat power. The first thing is to get things into the fleet to test them and say: ‘How do these things work together?’ ”
Work said the Navy’s concept of operations currently under development doesn’t need to be the final word, but he added it’s imperative the Navy begin experimenting.
“It’s very rudimentary right now — the medium-displacement surface vessels are the sensor guys, and the large surface vessels are more missile magazines. Hell, I can see all kinds of permutations, but for the first time we actually have platforms that are in the program that are being procured and will form the basis for fleet problems on human-machine surface action groups, human-machine undersea combat groups. I’m very excited about the way this is going," he said.
“Are these the final ones? No, they’ll change. But first the Navy had to commit to unmanned surface vehicles. People say, ‘Well, they’ll never be able to talk to each other,’ or that ‘under admiralty law, unmanned vessels are considered hazards to navigation.’ And I’m just thinking: ‘Will you just stop?’ Start thinking about how you work through those problems.”
US Navy’s Unmanned Boat Now Features 50-Caliber Machine Gun
06 May 2019
Military.com | By Richard Sisk
The Navy and Textron showed off for the first time a weaponized prototype of a small unmanned surface vessel (USV) designed to revolutionize sea warfare, May 6, 2019. (Military.com photo/Richard Sisk)
The Navy and Textron showed off for the first time Monday a weaponized prototype of a small unmanned surface vessel (USV) designed to revolutionize sea warfare.
Textron principal systems engineer Gary Hartman said the display of the 40-foot Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle, docked at the annual Sea-Air-Space Exposition at National Harbor, Maryland, is the first of the boat mounted with a 50-caliber machine gun and a housing for Hellfire missiles.
The weapons display is the outgrowth of the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement signed last year by Naval Sea Systems Command and Textron "to develop and integrate surface warfare payloads onto the Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle."
According to the agreement, "the payloads will include various missiles, designators, sensors, and remote weapon stations."
The weapons are part of what Hartman called an "expeditionary warfare package" for the CUSV, but he stressed that the display is intended only to show possible future capabilities. "As an initial package, there's not a lot of appetite for it" currently, he said.
Hartman said the CUSV itself is a program of record with the Navy, but there is no timeline for when the systems will be deployed.
The CUSV was initially developed to be carried aboard Littoral Combat Shipsand launched to conduct countermine and surveillance operations. The missions can be programmed into the CUSV, and radars and other sensors aboard alert the mother ship to what the CUSV finds, Hartman said.
Hartman noted that the CUSV is programmed to be compliant with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs).
The CUSV, which is capable of 30 knots and has a range of 400 nautical miles, will independently pass behind an approaching vessel and then resume its original mission direction, he said.
During countermine activities, when it is programmed to stick to a given course, the CUSV will independently slow to allow the approaching vessel to pass and "then get back on track," Hartman said.
The CUSV's COLREG-compliant feature also has possible applications for manned Navy surface vessels, he said. "It doesn't lose focus; it doesn't lose attention," as sailors might.
Navy's Zumalt destroyers to join drone ships in new experimental squadron
By Allen Cone
MAY 23, 2019
Capt. Scott Carroll, commander of Zumwalt Squadron ONE, delivers remarks during the establishment ceremony of Surface Development Squadron ONE on Wednesday in San Diego. Photo by Mass Communication Spec. 1st Class Woody S. Paschall/U.S. Navy
May 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy has created a new experimental squadron that will eventually include the three Zumwalt class destroyers and unmanned surface vehicles.
Vice Adm. Richard Brown, commander of Naval Surface Forces and Naval Surface Force Pacific, announced the formation of Surface Development Squadron One, or SURFDEVRON ONE, at a ceremony Wednesday in San Diego.
The squadron will integrate the drone vessels and support fleet experimentation to accelerate delivery of new warfighting concepts and capabilities to the fleet, according to the Navy.
The primary functions will support new and emerging surface warfighting capabilities; develop material and technical solutions to tactical challenges; and coordinate training, material, logistics, personnel and facilities requirements for unmanned surface systems.
"By standing up a command dedicated to developing warfighting capabilities and experimentation, we will ensure the U.S. Surface Navy remains the premiere Surface Navy in the world," Brown said.
Only the USS Zumwalt, which formally was designated as Zumalt Squadron One, initially will reside in the squadron with two Sea Hunter unmanned surface vessels next year. The USS Michael Monsoor was commissioned earlier this year and needs combat system activation. The Lyndon B. Johnsonis being built at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Maine.
The first Sea Hunter is in operation and a second Sea Hunter platform will join the squadron when construction is completed around the end of fiscal 2020, the Navy said.
In fiscal year 2024, the SURFDEVRON will be fully ready to tackle its mission of integrating unmanned surface vessels, according to the Navy.
"Without getting into classified discussions, I think that we can do a pretty good job imagining how unmanned could support the Zumwalt-class destroyer in its strike mission," Brown told USNI and other reporters before the standup ceremony. "So I think that there's a natural marriage between the Zumwalt-class destroyer and the capabilities that we think unmanned is going to bring to the fleet."
The first four littoral combat ships, which had been designated as test assets rather than deployable ships under the current LCS squadron construct, would be moved into SURFDEVRON by 2024.
"We believe that's the natural progression of the four LCS test ships, transfer from LCSRON over to the SURFDEVRON. And then all that experimentation exists under one commander, and we're able to just deliver anything that we experiment with or develop for LCS, we do that with SURFDEVRON and then just deliver it over to the LCSRON," Brown told reporters.
The Zumwalt class will be focused on surface strike. The advanced gun systems, which take up most of the front third of the destroyers, are no longer considered practical and are described as a "white elephant," according to The Drive.
"It is such a unique and capable class of ship. We want to be able to quickly experiment with it," Brown said. "So the Zumwalt class will be assigned to a carrier strike group. They will do the whole basic, advanced phase of training, integrated training, go deploy. They'll be in the same under the OFRP [Optimized Fleet Response Plan], much like a cruiser or destroyer -- but the capability that those ships bring is so unique that we really believe they belong in the SURFDEVRON so we can continually and rapidly experiment with them when they're not on deployment."
Capt. Henry Adams relieved Capt. Scott Carroll during a combined change of command/establishment ceremony.
"ZRON ONE embodied Adm. Zumwalt's legacy of warfighting innovation by leading fleet integration of the revolutionary ship class that bears his name," Carroll said. "Establishing this new squadron -- with its focus on experimentation and future warfighting technology -- fulfills and extends ZRON's purpose to the rest of the surface Navy. Although the name has changed, I'm proud to note that Adm. Zumwalt's innovative legacy will persist."
Adams said his team will to work "to execute the Navy's and surface warfare community's vision to build an organization focused on fleet innovation and experimentation. We look forward to the challenge and to working with the broader community of interest -- both inside and outside of the Navy -- as we collaborate to realize SURFDEVRON ONE's full potential."
Elbit Systems 40-foot, aluminum unmanned surface vessel is touted as a low-cost anti-mine and anti-submarine hunter. Photo courtesy of Elbit Systems
Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems is promoting its Seagull maritime unmanned surface vehicle as a low-cost submarine hunter and minesweeper.
The company's vessel is the first USV developed without a conversion from a standard, manned boat, and was specifically designed not as a patrol boat but for destruction of mines and submarines.
At $12 million to $25 million per vessel, a country eager to reinforce its military buy wary of its high budget deficit, like Israel, could regard the Seagull as a bargain. Standard minesweepers can cost as much as $200 million.
The 40-foot, aluminum boat was unveiled in May, and resembles a recreational motorboat but is equipped with torpedoes and most importantly, no crew. Its redundant features allow a replacement component to take over if a primary component fails, removing the need for a repair technician.
The market for USVs is expanding rapidly, and Israeli defense contractors like Elbit, Rafael and Israeli Aerospace industries, better known for airborne drones, are active in the field. The expansion comes at a time when mines are prominently in use in the Persian Gulf, notably by Iran and Yemen's Houthi rebels.
Countries which Israel perceives as nearby enemies have also expanded their submarine fleets; while the Israel Defense Force has five submarines, Iran has over 30, largely torpedo-equipped "midget" submarines about 100 feet in length and built to travel in shallow water.
One of two unmanned Ghost Fleet Overlord test vessels takes part in a capstone demonstration in September 2019, pictured, while another vessel earlier this week was spotted transiting the Panama Canal as part of another test. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy
May 20 (UPI) -- Nomad, an experimental unmanned surface vehicle, passed through the Panama Canal en route to its new home port in California, the Navy confirmed.
USNI News reported that ship spotters had found evidence of the vessel's passage through the Panama Canal using data from MarineTraffic.com, and that a Navy official had confirmed the transit.
The Navy did not provide comment on the transit, but web cameras at the Miraflores locks on the canal showed that Nomad -- a retrofitted offshore patrol vessel -- was heading toward the Pacific as of Tuesday night.
Ship spotters said the Nomad was underway in the Gulf Coast and traveled as far away as Norfolk, Va., for testing.
In January, the Pentagon announced that one of the two ships involved in the Ghost Fleet program had recently traveled a distance of more than 4,700 nautical miles, almost entirely autonomously, and then participated in an exercise where it spent nearly all of its underway time operating autonomously.
The vessel was one of two ships known to have been created for the Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office's Ghost Fleet Overlord program to test the viability of at-sea autonomous ships.
In 2019, as it entered the second phase of the program, the Navy awarded contracts to two industry teams to work on integration of command-and-control systems and payloads for the vessels.
The Pentagon has not disclosed information about the cost of the program or the contractors involved, citing special contracting rules, according to USNI.
On Thursday, Huntington Ingalls Industries announced that it had debuted another unmanned surface vessel, the Proteus, off the coast of Panama City, Fla., last week.