Monday, July 18, 2016

Unmanned Systems: A New Era for the U.S. Navy?

By Marjorie Greene
The U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Systems Directorate, or N99, was formally stood up this past September with the focused mission of quickly assessing emerging technologies and applying them to unmanned platforms. The Director of Unmanned Warfare Systems is Rear Adm. Robert Girrier, who was recently interviewed by Scout Warrior, and outlined a new, evolving Navy Drone Strategy.
The idea is to capitalize upon the accelerating speed of computer processing and rapid improvements in the development of autonomy-increasing algorithms; this will allow unmanned systems to quickly operate with an improved level of autonomy, function together as part of an integrated network, and more quickly perform a wider range of functions without needing every individual task controlled by humans. “We aim to harness these technologies. In the next five years or so we are going to try to move from human operated systems to ones that are less dependent on people. Technology is going to enable increased autonomy,” Admiral Girrier told Scout Warrior.
Forward, into Autonomy
Although aerial drones have taken off a lot faster than their maritime and ground-based equivalent, there are some signs that the use of naval drones – especially underwater – is about to take a leap forward. As recently as February this year, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the Pentagon plans to spend $600 million over the next five years on the development of unmanned underwater systems. DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) recently announced that the Navy’s newest risk taker is an “unmanned ship that can cross the Pacific.”
DARPA’s initial launch and testing of Sea Hunter. (Video: DARPA via YouTube)
Called the Sea Hunter, the vessel is a demonstrator version of an unmanned ship that will run autonomously for 60 – 80 days at a time. Known officially as the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV), the program started in 2010, when the defense innovations lab decided to look at what could be done with a large unmanned surface vessel and came up with submarine tracking and trailing. “It is really a mixture of manned-unmanned fleet,” said program manager Scott Littlefield. The big challenge was not related to programming the ship for missions. Rather, it was more basic – making an automated vessel at sea capable of driving safely. DARPA had to be certain the ship would not only avoid a collision on the open seas, but obey protocol for doing so.
As further evidence of the Navy’s progress toward computer-driven drones, the Navy and General Dynamics Electric Boat are testing a prototype of a system called the Universal Launch and Recovery Module that would allow the launch and recovery of unmanned underwater vehicles from the missile tube of a cruise missile submarine. The Navy is also working with platforms designed to collect oceanographic and hydrographic information and is operating a small, hand-launched drone called “Puma” to provide over-the-horizon surveillance for surface platforms.
Both DARPA and the Office of Naval Research also continue to create more sophisticated Unmanned Aircraft Systems. DARPA recently awarded Phase 2 system integration contracts for its CODE (Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment) program to help the U.S. military’s unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) conduct dynamic, long-distance engagements against highly mobile ground and maritime targets in denied or contested electromagnetic airspace, all while reducing required communication bandwidth and cognitive burden on human supervisors.

An artist's rendition of DARPA's CODE concept, designed to enable operations in a electromagnetically contested environment. Illustration: DARPA
CODE’s main objective is to develop and demonstrate the value of collective autonomy, in which UAS could perform sophisticated tasks, both individually and in teams under the supervision of a single human mission commander. The ONR LOCUST Program allows UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to stay in formation with little human control. At a recent demonstration, a single human controller was able to operate up to 32 UAVs.

The Networked Machine…
The principle by which individual UAVs are able to stay in formation with little human control is based on a concept called “swarm intelligence,” which refers to the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems, as introduced by Norbert Wiener in his book, Cybernetics. Building on behavioral models of animal cultures such as the synchronous flocking of birds, he postulated that “self-organization” is a process by which machines – and, by analogy, humans – learn by adapting to their environment.
The flock behavior, or murmuration, of starlings is an excellent demonstration of self-organization. (Video: BBC via YouTube)
Self-organization refers to the emergence of higher-level properties and behaviors of a system that originate from the collective dynamics of that system’s components but are not found in nor are directly deducible from the lower-level properties of the system. Emergent properties are properties of the whole that are not possessed by any of the individual parts making up that whole. The parts act locally on local information and global order emerges without any need for external control. In short, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
There is also a relatively new concept called “artificial swarm intelligence,” in which there have been attempts to develop human swarms using the internet to achieve a collective, synchronous wisdom that outperforms individual members of the swarm. Still in its infancy, the concept offers another approach to the increasing vulnerability of centralized command and control systems.
Perhaps more importantly, the concept may also allay increasing concerns about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence without a human in the loop. A team of Naval Postgraduate researchers are currently exploring a concept of “network optional warfare” and proposing technologies to create a “mesh network” for independent SAG tactical operations with designated command and control.
…And The Connected Human
Adm. Girrier was quick to point out that the strategy – aimed primarily at enabling submarines, surface ships, and some land-based operations to take advantage of fast-emerging computer technologies — was by no means intended to replace humans. Rather, it aims to leverage human perception and cognitive ability to operate multiple drones while functioning in a command and control capacity. In the opinion of this author, a major issue to be resolved in optimizing humans and machines working together is the obstacle of “information overload” for the human.

Rear Admiral Girrier, Director of N99, delivers a presentation on the future of naval unmanned systems at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Rear Admiral Robert P. Girrier, Director of N99, delivers a presentation on the future of naval unmanned systems at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, January 29, 2016. See the presentation here. (CSIS)

Captain Wayne P. Hughes Jr, U.S. Navy (Ret.), a professor in the Department of Operations Research at the Naval Postgraduate School, has already noted the important trend in “scouting” (or ISR) effectiveness. In his opinion, processing information has become a greater challenge than collecting it. Thus, the emphasis must be shifted from the gathering and delivery of information to the fusion and interpretation of information. According to CAPT Hughes, “the current trend is a shift of emphasis from the means of scouting…to the fusion and interpretation of massive amounts of information into an essence on which commanders may decide and act.”
Leaders of the Surface Navy continue to lay the intellectual groundwork for Distributed Lethality – defined as a tactical shift to re-organize and re-equip the surface fleet by grouping ships into small Surface Action Groups (SAGs) and increasing their complement of anti-ship weapons. This may be an opportune time to introduce the concept of swarm intelligence for decentralized command and control. Technologies could still be developed to centralize the control of multiple SAGs designed to counter adversaries in an A2/AD environment. But swarm intelligence technologies could also be used in which small surface combatants would each act locally on local information, with systemic order “emerging” from their collective dynamics.

Yes, technology is going to enable increased autonomy, as noted by Adm. Girrier in his interview with Scout Warrior. But as he said, it will be critical to keep the human in the loop and to focus on optimizing how humans and machines can better work together. While noting that decisions about the use of lethal force with unmanned systems will, according to Pentagon doctrine, be made by human beings in a command and control capacity, we must be assured that global order will continue to emerge with humans in control.
Marjorie Greene is a Research Analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses. She has more than 25 years’ management experience in both government and commercial organizations and has recently specialized in finding S&T solutions for the U. S. Marine Corps. She earned a B.S. in mathematics from Creighton University, an M.A. in mathematics from the University of Nebraska, and completed her Ph.D. course work in Operations Research from The Johns Hopkins University. The views expressed here are her own.
Featured Image: An MQ-8B Fire Scout UAS is tested off the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf near Los Angeles, Dec. 5 2014. The Coast Guard Research and Development Center has been testing UAS platforms consistently for the last three years. (U.S. Coast Guard)
Reprinted with permission from the Center for International Maritime Security.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Future of Sea-Air Drones and Protecting Maritime Assets

By Jack Whitacre

What are some of the ways the U.S. and other countries could defend maritime assets against swarms of Sea-Air drones? Consider a convoy system with human centered technology, algorithms from nature, and elements of gaming.
Oakland University’s Loon Copter works equally well above and below the water’s surface. Photo: Oakland University
The FAA estimated that one million drones would be sold during this 2015 holiday season. This estimate was based primarily on the proliferation of flying drones, however new domains of operation may open up soon. Premiering in 2015, the Loon Copter proves that, in time, these devices will be capable of traditional aerial flight, on-water surface operations, and sub-aquatic diving. Embedded Systems Research at Oakland University created the Loon Copter in 2014. In 2016, the design placed third in the UAE Drones for Good competition. The system works in air as well as in water because the four rotors balance and cut through air and water equally well.  
A map of nations with a drone program as of 2011. Courtesy Defense One, via RAND Corporation.
According to the New America Foundation, at least 19 countries possessed or were acquiring armed drone technology as of 2015.The Washington Post and The Aviationist reported in July of 2014 that even non-state actors like Hamas have manufactured drones capable of firing rockets or missiles. At the time of reporting it was unknown whether this specific group had the ability to launch missiles, but the story does show the willingness of non-state actors to weaponize technology. The same Washington Post article describes how low-tech “suicide” drones effectively function as guided missiles. With the history of state actors increasingly acquiring armed drones and non-state actors weaponizing drones, Sea-Air drones could open new realms of battlespace.
“The profound influence of sea commerce upon the wealth and strength of countries was clearly seen long before the true principles which governed its growth and prosperity were detected.” –Alfred Thayer Mahan 
Sea-Air drones are not currently available off the shelf, so their ramifications are not yet recognized. If non-state or state actors designed suicide drones with sufficient range, it would be very difficult to defend global maritime trade against these threats due to the sheer size of the oceans. The Canadian Military Journal hypothesized that it is only a matter of time before pirates use drones offensively. Articles like these contemplate an important issue, but are limited by only considering the skies. Currently, our ability to detect air drones far exceeds capabilities to detect devices beneath the surface of the ocean. Even by diving ten or fifteen meters beneath the surface, Sea-Air drones may be able to elude satellites. NASA’s Ocean surface topography site describes how the best satellites measuring ocean temperature pierce only one inch below the ocean’s surface.
Shrouded by shadowy depths, would-be aggressors could potentially take down or ransom large freight vessels and trade flows that are so essential to many countries’ survival. According to Rose George in Ninety Percent of Everything,” nearly 90% of goods are transported by sea. The stakes are high and the arena is huge. While it’s unlikely that every inch of the sea will become a combat zone, NOAA estimates that there are nearly 321,003,271 cubic miles of water in the world’s oceans. To this end, DARPA is re-thinking distributed defense by creating small aircraft carrier cooperatives. In the face of such a large and deep strategic chessboard, what are some of the ways the U.S. and other maritime nations could defend shipping from Sea-Air Drones? One option would be to revive the convoy system. The tipping point for such a decision may have to unfortunately be a tragedy with lives lost at sea. By contemplating these scenarios now, we could build in defenses before deaths occur.
“When [the enemy] concentrates, prepare against him.” –Sun Tzu
The cost of drone technology, like other innovations, continues to decrease; beginners models are available for less than $100. As this trend is likely to also occur in the maritime arena, it would be wise to match high-value vessels with an accompanying group of friendly Sea-Air drones offering constant defensive protection. In other words, a convoy must have the ability to destroy or electronically neutralize attacking drones. A ship with a 24/7 security presence would likely be safer than standard battle group coordinated operations. This is because there are simply too many ships at sea at any given time to protect them all through traditional means. The International Chamber of Shipping estimates there are least 50,000 merchant ships plying the oceans at any given time. Having constant convoys would reduce vulnerability amidst the uncertainty of when, where, and how an enemy might attack.
These convoys could be combinations of complex programmable drones capable of truly autonomous decisions and human operated systems. The most successful formations might be inspired from millions of years of evolution and derived through phenomena like flocks of birds and schools of fish. In such swarms it would be possible to make a human operator the “lead,” balancing machine autonomy with human decision-making. To this end, P.W. Singer and August Cole’s futuristic Ghost Fleet novel describes human helicopter pilots flying missions in conjunction with drones. The video below shows many different formations that could be programmed for swarms.
In order to recruit talent, the defense community might consider incorporating crowd-sourcing and gaming to meet increasing demands, at least until convoy defense systems can function in fully automatized ways. Pilots could be given a convoy interface (like Eve Online) and point systems tied to real world rewards to incentivize behavior. With this approach, the U.S. could capitalize upon large reserves of talent to protect trade, coasts, and even fishing vessels. This is merely an opening suggestion. There would, of course, be clear difficulties with such a strategy, such as ensuring a clearance system, similar to that of the Merchant Marine, payments to operators, and contract stipulations surrounding the use of force. However, the proliferation of third-party defense contracting proves that new types of defense arrangements can be made quickly in the face of emergent threats. 

Hybrid Drones - the Advantages of Operating in Multiple Domains

It may be many years before Sea-Air drones, suicide drone piracy, and other forms of maritime threats emerge in full force. However, there are already clear modes of attack and high valued targets. The future may be hard to predict but that shouldn’t it preclude it from strategic thinking.  
Jack Whitacre is an entrepreneur and former boat captain who studied international security and maritime affairs at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Reprinted with permission from the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC).

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hybrid Drones - the Advantages of Operating in Multiple Domains

Classifying unmanned maritime systems by their operating domain: air, surface, or underwater - is both convenient and intuitive. But recently, navy and industry researchers have begun to explore the advantages of platforms that can operate in two domains, muddying the nomenclature.  In the past year, several prototype multi-domain unmanned vehicles have been introduced.  

The most popular combination of these hybrid drones is the air/sub-surface mixture - UAVs that float or swim. Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland introduced the Corrosion Resistant Aerial Covert Unmanned Nautical System (CRACUNS), a submersible UAV designed to operate in the littorals which can be launched from a fixed position underwater or from an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV).

Rutger University's entry into the fray of flying/swimming drones is the Naviator, which can actually maneuver (sort of) underwater before surfacing and taking off. 

Naval Postgraduate School students built the Aqua-Quad, a small quadcopter with the ability to land and drift on the ocean's surface. Singapore's ST Engineering has produced the Unmanned Hybrid Vehicle (UHV), which can fly for short ranges then move at 4-5 knots underwater. Perhaps the most advanced air/sub-surface combo vehicle is the Naval Research Laboratory's FLIMMER. 

Another take on the multi-domain hybrid is American Unmanned Systems spherical Guardbot, an amphibious surveillance robot that can cross from the sea to land.

Unmanned  Hybrid Vehicle (image courtesy of Shepherd Media)
Currently, these vehicles are all prototypes in the testing stage. It's not clear, which, if any, will see practical application in maritime operations. What sort of tactical advantage might these vehicles bring to naval missions?  The ability to launch a fairly short-ranged UAV from a ship or a larger aircraft to rapidly and precisely deploy an unattended sensor in the water column could be important for anti-submarine warfare. For instance, deploying a hydrophone with acoustic sensors can be done directly - like when a maritime patrol aircraft dispenses a disposable sonobuoy.  But a hybrid UAV could deploy, listen, then move and listen in another place, using the same vehicle, and potentially recover to a mothership. The same situation could also be used to deploy hydrographic monitoring instruments, important for ASW, but also mine warfare.

Ocean Aero, a company out of San Diego, California, is developing a combined surface/subsurface vehicle, the Submaran S10.  The vehicle runs from a combination of sail and solar power, giving it extremely long endurance for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.  In this case, submerging could help the vehicle to avoid detection from surface and air platforms.

Of course this versatility results in trade-offs. None of these platforms will excel performance-wise in either operating domain. The vehicles listed above have fairly short ranges compared to single purpose platforms. Flight ranges may be short, but in ASW and other applications, there is an advantage to being able to drift on or under the water and listen while consuming very little power.  The Aqua-Quad is designed to do just that, with the help of photo-voltaic cells.  

Though these smaller vehicles have limited range compared to say a MALE UAV, they will also be much less expensive than long-endurance vehicles, meaning they can be acquired and deployed in quantity.  Operating in swarms, hybrid vehicles can become a force multiplier, distributing many sensors -- and possibly weapons -- over wider ranges.  There are certainly situations in which the ability to move between the air, and on or under the water make sense.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Unmanned Systems & Strategic Futures at the Naval War College

The Naval War College remains the center of the U.S. Navy's foremost strategic thinkers.  Later this month, various experts from the military, academia, and policy communities will convene in Newport for a maritime strategy symposium.   
Some of the presenters will focus on the impact that unmanned vehicles have produced on naval strategy.  From the Naval Post-graduate School, retired Navy Captain Jeff Kline will discuss his paper on Impacts of the Robotics Age on Naval Force Structure Planning."

Captain Kline’s paper emphasizes the importance of offensive “payload over platforms,” in order to overcome impediments to enhancing future force structure. In his words,
“This package focus” first is particularly applicable in the electromagnetic and cyber realm. Inexpensive, deposable UAVs employing radar reflectors or chirp jamming may be better delivery platforms for EM “packages” than an F-18 Growler. In the offense, developing “Left of kill chain” effects against an adversary need not be expensive, but does require synchronization with the movement of actual forces.
Retired Captain Jerry Hendrix, from the Center for New American Security, argues for investing in change by introducing innovative naval capabilities.  These technologies would bring future conflicts to a swift victory by targeting an enemy’s national leadership.
If the United States were to go to war again it must leverage the technologies it has, a superb intelligence-reconnaissance complex as well as a precision strike capability unlike any other nation on earth, and combine these with newly emerging capabilities; unmanned and man-machine platforms, directed energy weapons, electro-magnetic and hypersonics to identify, target and destroy the critical center of gravity within the enemy camp.
Joining Captain Hendrix on the force structure panel is Lena S. Andrews, a PhD candidate in Political Science and a member of the Security Studies Program at MIT, who recognizes that new technologies introduce new risks. In her War on the Rocks article, Ms. Andrews and her coauthor Julia Macdonald warn that the increased reliability on satellite data connections and space technologies which have enabled the unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance revolution create a cyber capability-vulnerability paradox. 

In the paper “Future Maritime Forces: Unmanned, Autonomous, and Lethal,” the War College’s own William F. Bundy foresees that the combination of distributed lethality and unmanned systems will revolutionize future naval warfare.  His vision is that advanced unmanned air, surface, and subsurface platforms operating off surface ships and governed by artificial intelligence will be able to conform to safety of flight and navigation and the laws of armed conflict.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mitigating Cosite Interference in UAVs

by Doug King dking(at)

Military radios must be able to operate in severe cosite interference environments (Figure 1.1 defines cosite interference). Cosite interference is a problem faced by many RF and microwave communications platforms; including Unmanned Systems. Military radios often operate in close proximity to additional radios, giving rise to cosite interference. The following article explains the issues associated with military radios operating in close proximity to additional interferers and how Tunable Filters are utilized in real-time applications. Finally, MPG-Pole/Zero’s recent advances in mitigating cosite interference are summarized.

Issues associated with military radios operating in close proximity to additional interferers: 
Multiple transmitters coupled to antennas in close proximity create a condition called reverse intermodulation, characterized by the coupling of energy from one transmitter into the antenna of another, creating a simultaneous flow of reverse and forward energy. Coupled energy mixes in the nonlinearities in the output network of the transmitter to create an infinite number of intermodulation products. The products are then re-propagated to the collocated receivers, creating products of sufficient level to preclude reception at those frequencies. Thus, a cosite transmitter’s output carrier signal can significantly degrade the performance of the receiver.

How Tunable Filters are utilized in cosite interference applications: 
The use of a receive filter or filter/LNA cascade such as that introduced in the transmit chain can create “preselection” of the energy from the receive antenna and reduce the relative level of the cosite interferer to the desired signal. Under this condition, the debilitating effect of cosite interference is mitigated by the selectivity of the preselector

As in the transmit environment, nonlinear effects in the receive chain can be the source of additional cosite interference. The preselection filter serves to minimize the level of the interfering signals prior to the receive nonlinearity, thereby minimizing any resulting products created within the receiver. Pole/Zero designs and tests the filters and LNAs that comprise the cascade filter to ensure that acceptable levels of distortion occur under these conditions.

Greater isolation can effectively be achieved through the use of selective filtering at the transmitter to minimize broadband noise. Selective filtering is applied following the primary noise sources in the transmit signal chain, having the overall effect of lowering the broadband noise without necessitating an increase in antenna isolation.

For greater selectivity, multiple filters can be placed in cascade with low noise amplifiers (LNAs) for inter-filter isolation and filter loss recovery purposes, followed by a power amplifier designed for efficient operation and low noise output. Further reductions in broadband noise and improved immunity to reverse intermodulation distortion can be achieved with the addition of a high power tunable filter at the output of the PA.

Recent MPG-Pole/Zero tunable filter advances: 
MPG-Pole/Zero’s recent tunable filter advances for cosite interference mitigation solutions include:
• Highly integrated filter products with significant SWaP reduction, compared to legacy filters, that maintain 5W in-band power over the entire military tactical radio tuning range in single- and dual-channel configurations;
• Miniature SMT bandpass filter options from 30 MHz to 3GHz;
• Narrowband and wideband interference cancelers, some of which do not require an interferer reference, thereby enabling cancellation of off-platform interferers;
• Deep notch filters to create communications channels in wideband, high power signals;
• Miniature, light-weight filter and power amplifier cascades for cosite interference issues inherent in UAV retransmission applications.

Reprinted with permission from CRUSER NEWS. All opinions expressed are those of the respective author or authors and do not represent the official policy or positions of the Naval Postgraduate School, the United States Navy, or any other government entity. The inclusion of these links does not represent an endorsement of the organization, service, or product.