Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Unmanned Maritime Systems Operations and Maintenance Lifecycle Costs

by Dr. Diana Angelis, NPS Faculty, diangeli(at) 

The Navy currently has a number of Unmanned Maritime Systems (UMS) that perform a variety of missions including mine countermeasures, maritime security, hydrographic surveying, environmental analysis, special operations, and oceanographic research. While these unmanned systems were rapidly developed and fielded to meet immediate warfighter needs, some of the systems have not been subjected to the normal cost reviews associated with programs of record and in many cases the data required to develop rigorous cost models is limited or unavailable. As a result, the total ownership cost of unmanned maritime systems is not well defined, particularly the costs associated with operations and support.

Dr. Diana Angelis and Mr. Steve Koepenick from SPAWAR have been working on a CRUSER funded project to better understand UMS lifecycle costs with an emphasis on the operations and support costs associated with unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV). The first phase of the project brought together subject matter experts from various UMS programs in a warfare innovation workshop held at NPS in March 2015. The workshop participants identified several cost drivers of UUV O&S costs including fleet size, energy requirements, availability, security requirements (including cyber security), and training and retention.

Each of the major cost drivers was further decomposed into the system attributes that influence the magnitude of the cost driver. For example, energy is a function of:

Type of mission, which drives:
 • Area to be covered (which drives range)
 • Time constraints (which drives speed)

Type of energy source, which drives:
• Recharge requirements and # of recharge cycles
• Safety (certification)
• Storage and disposal
An influence diagram for energy costs is shown above. This will form the basis for further research into the factors that drive energy cost for UUVs.

The next steps are to collect data and build regression models that will quantify the relationships between the factors identified in the workshop and UUV O&S cost categories. When fully developed, these models can be used by program offices to forecast UUV O&S costs in support of analysis of alternatives and budgeting decisions.

Participating in the workshop were several NPS students, including four distance learning students in Systems Engineering. These students decided to use the findings of the workshop as a basis for further research in their capstone project. The capstone project will employ an array of systems engineering methodologies to investigate the specific UUV cost drivers associated with two unique mission types and explore the effect of mission requirements on O&S costs. The team has been working with PMS 408 and PMS 406 to develop point estimates and distributions for relevant O&S cost elements of the life cycle cost model. The project is expected to be completed in March 2016.

Reprinted with permission from the Naval Postgraduate School's CRUSER News.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Multi-Domain Unmanned Systems Implementation Creates Comprehensive Maritime Situational Awareness

by Morgan Stritzinger, Public Relations Specialist, Textron Systems, mstritzi(at)

The collaboration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) extends relative reach, and therefore the operational footprint. The unmanned aircraft and USV work together to extend data link ranges, and the USV can carry, deploy and recover the UUV, thereby extending its range and providing a safer environment for the host vessel. Extending mission capabilities is critical to efficient and effective maritime missions, creating situational awareness that delivers actionable data and value.

Unmanned systems are best suited for tasks too “dull, dirty or dangerous” for their manned counterparts and are a pertinent complementary system to manned asset efforts. This includes repetitive tasks that are more costly for humans to perform or represent opportunity for human error, situations in extreme weather and environmental conditions, as well as the execution of dangerous tasks such as mine warfare or mine countermeasures, keeping humans out of harm’s way. Unmanned systems allow humans to remain at a standoff distance, while monitoring and maintaining defense in areas of interest.

Today, unmanned systems can be leveraged in airborne, surface and underwater modalities to bring interoperable force multiplication to the fleet.

  • UAS overhead deliver real-time full-motion video. Multimission Small UAS like Aerosonde™ system carry additional sensors, delivering communications relay and electronic warfare capacity, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – simultaneously. 
  • USVs offer flexible payload bays that can be equipped for mission sets from mine countermeasures to counter-piracy. The Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV™) for the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) program is an example. 
  • The U.S. Navy intends to use the UISS as a mine countermeasure system, designed for sweeping of magnetic and acoustic mines. The CUSV will conduct this mission by towing an underwater sweep system. Small unmanned underwater vehicles, or UUVs, are emerging with various capabilities at different depths that can be easily deployed, towed and retrieved from the CUSV. 
Together, these systems can provide the fleet with multi-domain situational awareness and extended reach and operational capability. Multi-platform control allows several systems to be controlled in parallel, collecting data from numerous sensors, enhancing the common operational picture, and allowing task synchronization. This data fusion at the source, rather than separate from the engagement in an intelligence cell, speeds the decision cycle.

Persistence is another critical advantage in implementing multiple unmanned systems in a maritime environment. Unmanned systems provide multi-sensor coverage over vast expanses with significant endurance. 

Supplementing the fleet with unmanned systems also affords value advantages with more streamlined system footprints, logistical requirements and personnel demands. 

Supporting this are interoperable command-and-control (C2) technologies, maintaining system and payload control of all unmanned systems simultaneously. Currently, Textron Systems’ Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS) is the common control station for the Shadow®, Gray Eagle® and Hunter UAS. C2 systems can form the foundation for teaming between unmanned systems in the multi-domain scenario and can also do so for digital interoperability between manned systems such as the AH-64 Apache and unmanned systems like Shadow and Gray Eagle. Finally, common C2 streamlines training, logistics and maintenance needs and costs.

Unmanned systems technology has advanced to create a significant information and capability advantage for maritime operations. This multi-domain awareness allows personnel to synchronize tasks more seamlessly and turn data into decisive action.  

Reprinted with permission from the Naval Postgraduate School's CRUSER News.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

UCLASS: Breaking the Analysis Paralysis

As the requirements definition for the U.S. Navy's unmanned carrier aircraft (UCLASS)  program to develop a long duration, carrier-based unmanned air system sits stalled awaiting an ongoing Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) ISR UAV review due sometime this fiscal year, one thing is sure: the longer the decision is delayed, the later this important capability - in whatever form it eventually may take - will hit the fleet. The aircraft's original initial operating capability has already slipped from 2017 to no earlier than 2023.

Possibly in an attempt to break the ongoing analytical logjam, informed naval analysts have begun to suggest alternatives to the binary decision of simply buying a UCLASS specialized in ISR and light strike or one that is optimized for long-range, penetrating strike.

Bryan McGrath, Deputy Director of the Center for American Seapower, came to realize the importance of a long-range, carrier-based scouting aircraft while researching the report he co-authored for the Hudson Institute on the future of aircraft carriers and supporting fleet composition. McGrath now argues that the Navy should acquire two variants of unmanned carrier aircraft, each specialized for its respective role of ISR or strike.

In another recent report by CNAS, retired Navy Captain Jerry Hendrix discusses how trade-offs in air wing mass, persistence, payload, and most recently low observability, have evolved with the carrier's aircraft complement over time. The report includes significant discussion of the role of an unmanned carrier aircraft capable of operating at stand-off distance from an adversary's anti-access networks.  "Given the physiological demands of the length of the mission driven by stand-off distance and/or the need to loiter on-station to find mobile or time critical targets, the minute energy management and split second timing involved in penetrating a dense anti-air network, and the current development of technology, the research community has begun to investigate the development of an unmanned platform to accomplish this mission."

The requirement for long loiter time in order to hunt time-critical or fleeting targets has been discussed previously in this blog.  Though recognizing the importance of that aspect of the unmanned carrier air mission set, Hendrix goes on to compare advocates of an ISR-centric UCLASS with battleship admirals of the 1920s and 30s who "calcified in their ways... could only envision naval aviation serving as spotters in support of battleship gunfire."

Graphic courtesy of CNAS.
In the end, Hendrix proffers three alternative air wings including various UCLASS options.  This more holistic approach considers modifying other aspects of the planned air wing (especially the extremely expensive F-35C) in order to accelerate an enhanced UCLASS program (Option 2). Option 3 would acquire a mix of "six attack squadrons composed of 16 true unmanned combat aerial vehicles, 12 aircraft configured as low observable strikers, and four aircraft configured as tankers/ISR platforms (minus stealth accruements)." It should be noted that both of the aforementioned reports discuss the need for UCLASS to provide organic air wing airborne refueling.

The phasing of these different types of aircraft would be important. It's likely that the control software needed in an ISR variant would take less development time than that of a penetrating aircraft designed to strike at least semi-autonomously in a denied electromagnetic spectrum, so it would be beneficial to focus on funding and deploying the ISR aircraft first. Side benefits of a dual-variant approach to a UCLASS purchase would be to maintain the industrial base of two different aircraft manufacturers as well as affording various political trade-offs that could result from truncated F-35 buys.  However, the Navy should demand common control stations, data paths, and base operating software for the ISR and strike-heavy variants of UCLASS, regardless of which company ultimately manufactures each type. This commonality would reduce life cycle costs and provide greater flexibility in operations.

One would hope these alternative ideas will break the analysis paralysis plaguing the UCLASS program, but perhaps they might just make it worse... With no shortage of ideas under consideration, only leadership and compromise - from both the Navy and Congressional sides - can move this program forward smartly.

Friday, September 25, 2015

ASW Drones - An Update

One of the areas of naval warfare with the most potential for transformation by unmanned systems is submarine hunting.  In general, anti-submarine warfare (or ASW) requires persistently deployed sensors at various water depths in order to detect, track, and identify submarines so that a targeting solution can be developed and weapons deployed against the subs.  This detect-to-engage sequence can take weeks to develop or it can occur very rapidly. Additionally, ASW is a multi-domain discipline, meaning assets are deployed above, on the surface of, and under the sea. Currently, ASW sensors are deployed by aircraft (usually periscope detecting radars, magnetic anomaly detectors, and sonobuoys) and surface ships (hull mounted, towed array, or variable depth sonars).

As one can imagine, coordinating these assets is a very complicated activity.  At some point in the future, increased levels of autonomy in unmanned systems will reduce to a degree the human coordination required in ASW. In the near term, probably the most important factor that unmanned systems will bring to the fight is their sheer number and persistence.

MQ-9B Launches Sonobuoys (artist concept by General Atomics)
A single mission platform for hunting hard to detect diesel boats, DARPA's Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program, or "Sea Hunter" prototype continues its development.  The major challenge for USVs is autonomous navigation and obstacle avoidance. And though they offer long dwell time for ASW and the ability to tow acoustic detection arrays at various depths of the water column, their speed is limited.

The plug and play nature of today's unmanned system will facilitate the introduction of many types of sensors in greater quantities on the ASW battlefield. In 2014, Ultra Electronics USSI announced the integration of its Sentinel Passive Acoustic Sensor into Liquid Robotics Wave Glider unmanned surface vessel. According to a press release from the company, the "sensor/software suite is designed to acoustically detect, track and form contact reports on waterborne targets that are transmitted to a command and control node on shore, ship or aircraft platform."

General Atomics, maker of the Predator and Reaper UAVs that proliferate today's battlefields, has recently introduced capabilities that could makes this versatile aircraft a viable ASW platform.  A maritime version of the MQ-9B, the Guardian, already offers extended range and a multi-mode active electronically scanned radar which could be useful in detecting a submarine cruising at periscope depth.  Now, General Atomics has proposed a Guardian-variant to complement the Royal Navy's manned ASW maritime patrol aircraft.  The UAV will be capable of deploying sonobuoys produced by Ultra Electronics and sending their data back to a control station via satellite link.  Ground-based sonobuoy-launching UAVs will augment ASW assets deployed at sea and give naval commanders greater flexibility in deploying submarine-detecting sensors at long distances from their operating bases.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What is an autonomous system? Are we talking about the same things?

 by Curtis Blais, NPS Faculty Associate Research, clblais(at)

 I enjoy reading the monthly articles in the CRUSER Newsletter. We are challenged intellectually by new ideas and even by the different terms used in talking about robotic systems. For example, in the January 2015 issue, Paul Scharre (“The Coming Swarm”) spoke of human-inhabited and uninhabited systems, with the statement that incorporation of increasing automation in uninhabited systems helps them become “true robotic systems.” Such concepts make one wonder how to classify the emerging “driverless” automobiles that transport humans and allow human override, or autonomous medical evacuation aircraft transporting human casualties – are those “true robotic systems”?

Clearly, a challenge in new fields of research and technology is reaching common agreement and use of terminology. In the Department of Defense, the robotics field has emerged rapidly as a revolution in warfighting, potentially reshaping the future battlefield in ways that we are only beginning to discover. In 2008, the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued Special Publication 1011-I-2.0 titled “Autonomy Levels for Unmanned Systems (ALFUS) Framework, Volume 1: Terminology,” in an attempt to standardize terminology for this field. In this report, we find the following definitions that can help focus CRUSER concerns:

Unmanned Systems (UMS): A powered physical system, with no human operator aboard the principal components, which acts in the physical world to accomplish assigned tasks. It may be mobile or stationary. It can include any and all associated supporting components such as OCUs [Operator Control Units, the computer(s), accessories, and data link equipment that an operator uses to control, communicate with, receive data and information from, and plan missions for one or more UMSs]. Examples include unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), unmanned aerial vehicles/systems (UAV/ UAS), unmanned maritime vehicles (UMV) —whether unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) or unmanned water surface borne vehicles (USV)—unattended munitions (UM), and unattended ground sensors (UGS). Missiles, rockets, and their submunitions, and artillery are not considered the principal components of UMSs.

Autonomy: A UMS’s own ability of integrated sensing, perceiving, analyzing, communicating, planning, decision-making, and acting/executing, to achieve its goals as assigned by its human operator(s) through designed Human-Robot Interface (HRI) or by another system that the UMS communicates with. UMS’s Autonomy is characterized into levels from the perspective of Human Independence (HI), the inverse of HRI. Autonomy is further characterized in terms of Contextual Autonomous Capability (CAC). A UMS’s CAC is characterized by the missions that the system is capable of performing, the environments within which the missions are performed, and human independence that can be allowed in the performance of the missions.

Autonomous: Operations of a UMS wherein the UMS receives its mission from either the operator who is off the UMS or another system that the UMS interacts with and accomplishes that mission with or without further human-robot interaction.

Fully autonomous: A mode of UMS operation wherein the UMS accomplishes it assigned mission, within a defined scope, without human intervention while adapting to operational and environmental conditions.

Semi-autonomous: A mode of UMS operation wherein the human operator and/or the UMS plan(s) and conduct(s) a mission and requires various levels of HRI. The UMS is capable of autonomous operation in between the human interactions.

Remote control: A mode of UMS operation wherein the human operator controls the UMS on a continuous basis, from a location off the UMS via only her/his direct observation. In this mode, the UMS takes no initiative and relies on continuous or nearly continuous input from the human operator.

Teleoperation: A mode of UMS operation wherein the human operator, using sensory feedback, either directly controls the actuators or assigns incremental goals on a continuous basis, from a location off the UMS.

Under CRUSER auspices, the author of the present article is investigating how behaviors and effects of human and unmanned systems can be distinguished in simulation models (see the January 2015 issue of CRUSER News). From the above definitions, we could ask a fundamental question, “Should human warfighters be considered as fully autonomous or semi-autonomous entities?” We probably are quick to consider human warfighters (soldier, sailor, Marine, airman, etc.) as fully autonomous entities, even though they report to some higher command and their actions can be overridden by modified orders from higher command (and, those orders are subject to interpretation, which may or may not correctly align with the commander’s intent, and even so are not guaranteed to be obeyed). Suffice to say, we are in the early stages of a fascinating era of research and development that will bring about greater precision in our concepts and terminology relating to unmanned systems, while possibly redefining our notions of manned systems as well.

Reprinted with permission from thConsortium for Robotics and Unmanned Systems Education and Research (CRUSER).

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What's the Buzz? Ship-based Unmanned Aviation and its Influence on Littoral Navies During Combat Operations.

By Ben Ho Wan Beng
 “Unmanned aviation” has been a buzzword in the airpower community during recent years with the growing prevalence of unmanned systems to complement and in some cases replace peopled ones in key roles like intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). Insofar as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly used for strike, their dominant mission is still ISR because of the fledging state of pilotless technology. This is especially the case for sea-based drones, which are generally less capable than their brethren ashore. That said, several littoral navies have jumped on the shipborne UAV bandwagon owing to its relative utility and cost-effectiveness.[1] And with access to such platforms, how would these entities be effected during combat?
For littoral nations without an aerial maritime ISR capability in the form of maritime patrol aircraft (or only having a limited MPA capability), the sea-based drone can make up for this lacuna and improve battlespace/domain awareness. On the other hand, for littoral nations with a decent maritime ISR capability, the shipborne UAV can still play a valuable, albeit, complementary role. The naval drone also offers the prospect of coastal forces amassing more lethality as it refines the target-acquisition process, enabling its mother ship to attack the adversary more accurately.
 The littoral combat environment
 Littoral operations are likely to be highly complex affairs. As esteemed naval commentator Geoffrey Till said: “The littoral is a congested place, full of neutral and allied shipping, oil-rigs, buoys, coastline clutter, islands, reefs and shallows, and complicated underwater profiles.”[2] One key reason behind the labyrinthine nature of littoral warfare is that it involves clutter not only at sea, but also on land and in the air. Especially troublesome is the presence of numerous ships in the littorals. To illustrate, almost 78,000 ships transited the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s busiest waterways, in 2013.[3]
Fire Scout onboard a Littoral Combat Ship (US Navy Photo)
Such a complex operating milieu would place a premium on the importance of battlespace awareness, which could make or break a campaign. As fabled ancient Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu asserted: “With advance information, costly mistakes can be avoided, destruction averted, and the way to lasting victory made clear.” This statement was made over 2,000 years ago and is still as relevant as before today, especially when considered against the intricacies of littoral combat that hinders sensor usage. Indeed, shipborne radar performance during littoral operations can be significantly degraded by land clutter. For instance, the 1982 Falklands conflict manifested the problems sea-based sensors had in detecting and identifying low-flying aircraft with land clutter in the background.[4] Campaigning in congested coastal waters would also necessitate the detection and identification of hostile units in the midst of numerous other sea craft, which is by no means an easy task. All in all, the clutter common to littoral operations presents a confusing tactical picture to naval commanders, and the side with a better view of the situation ­– read greater battlespace awareness – would have a distinct edge over its adversary. Sea-based UAVs can provide multispectral disambiguation of threat contacts from commercial shipping by virtue of onboard sensor suites, yielding enhanced situational awareness to the warfare commander.
Improved battlespace awareness         
Traditional manned maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) would be the platform of choice to perform maritime ISR that helps in raising battlespace awareness in a littoral campaign. However, not all coastal states own such assets, which can be relatively expensive[5], or have enough of them to maintain a persistent ISR over the battlespace, a condition critical to the outcome of a littoral operation. This is where the sea-based drone would come in handy. Unmanned aviation has a distinct advantage over its manned equivalent, as UAVs can stay airborne much longer than piloted aircraft. To illustrate, the ScanEagle naval drone, which is in service with littoral navies such as Singapore and Tunisia and commonly used for ISR, can remain on station for some 28 hours.[6] In stark contrast, the corresponding figure for the P-3 Orion MPA is 14.[7]The sensor capabilities of some of the naval drones currently in service also make them credible aerial maritime ISR platforms. Indeed, they are equipped with such sophisticated sensor technologies as electro-optical, infrared and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) systems.
To be sure, the shipborne UAV is incomparable to the MPA vis-à-vis most performance attributes, and the two platforms definitely cannot be used interchangeably. The utility of the naval drone lies in the fact that it can complement the MPA by taking over some of the latter’s routine, less demanding surveillance duties. This would then free up the MPA to concentrate on other, more combat-intensive missions during a littoral campaign, such as attacking enemy ships. And for a littoral nation without MPAs, the shipborne UAV would be especially valuable as it can perform aerial ISR duties for a prolonged period.
The naval drone can contribute to information dominance in another way. In combat involving two littoral navies, the side with organic airpower tends to have better domain awareness over the other, ceteris paribus. However rudimentary it may be, the shipborne drone constitutes a form of organic sea-based airpower that extends the “eyes” of its mother platform. The curvature of Earth limits the range of surface radars, but having an “eye in the sky” circumvents this and improves coverage significantly. Being able to “see” from altitude allows one to attain the naval equivalent of “high ground,” that key advantage so prized by land-based  forces. Indeed, the ScanEagle can operate at an altitude of almost 5,000 meters (m).[8] In the same vein, the Picador unmanned helicopter has a not inconsiderable service ceiling of over 3,600m.[9] In essence, the UAV allows its mother ship to detect threats that the latter would generally be unable to using its own sensors.
All in all, shipborne drones enable littoral fleets to have a clearer tactical picture, translating to improved survivability by virtue of the greater cognizance of emerging threats that they offer to surface platforms. Having greater battlespace awareness also means that the naval force in question would be in a superior position to dish out punishment on its adversary.
Increased lethality
 Sea-based UAVs would enable a littoral navy to target the opposing side more accurately as they can carry out target acquisition, hence increasing their side’s lethality. In this sense, the drone is reprising the role carried out by floatplanes deployed on battleships and cruisers in World War Two. During that conflict, these catapult-launched aircraft acted as spotters by directing fire for their mother ships during surface engagements. In more recent times, during Operation Desert Storm, Pioneer UAVs from the American battlewagon Wisconsin guided gunfire for their mother ship. Several current UAVs can fulfill this role. For instance, the Eagle Eye can be used as a guidance system for naval gunfire; ditto the Picador with its target-acquisition capabilities. There is also talk of drones carrying out over-the-horizon targeting so as to facilitate anti-ship missile strikes from the mother platforms.[10]
And though land-based UAVs are increasingly taking up strike missions, the same cannot be said for their sea-based counterparts as very few of the latter are even in service today in the first place, due to their complexity and cost. The Fire Scout is one such armed naval UAV. This United States Navy rotorcraft can be armed with guided rockets and Hellfire air-to-surface missiles; however, with a unit cost of US$15-24 million[11], it is not a low-end platform. All in all, unarmed shipborne drones are likely to be the order of the day for littoral navies, at least in the near term, and such platforms can only carry out what they have been doing all this while, like ISR and target acquisition.
 In summary, the sea-based drone can, to some extent, complement the maritime patrol aircraft in the aerial ISR portfolio at sea, helping to maintain the battlespace awareness of the littoral navy during a conflict. The naval UAV’s target-acquisition capability also means that it can improve its owner’s striking power to some extent. These statements, however, must be qualified as current shipborne drones can only operate in low-threat environments – in contested airspace, their survivability and viability would be severely jeopardized, as they are simply unable to evade enemy fighters and anti-aircraft fire. In the final analysis, it can perhaps be maintained that the rise of sea-based UAVs constitutes incremental progress for littoral navies, as the platform does not offer game-changing capabilities to these entities.
Going forward, ISR is likely to remain the main mission for sea-based drones in the near future. Though the armed variant seems to offer a breakthrough in this state of affairs, it must be stressed that it is neither a simple nor cheap undertaking. If and when defense industrial players were to provide lower-cost solutions to this issue in the future, however, the striking power of coastal fleets would increase considerably and with that, the nature of littoral and for that matter naval warfare in general would profoundly change. Until then, the sea UAV-littoral navy nexus would be characterized by evolution, not revolution.
Ben Ho Wan Beng is a Senior Analyst with the Military Studies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore; he received his master’s degree in strategic studies from the same institute. The ideas expressed above are his alone. He would also like to express his heartfelt gratitude to colleague Chang Jun Yan for his insightful comments on a draft of this article.
[1] For instance, the Scan Eagle drone has a unit cost of $100,000. See
[2] Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-first Century(London: Routledge, 2013), 268.
[3] Marcus Hand, “Malacca Straits transits hit all-time high in 2013, pass 2008 peak,” Seatrade Maritime News, February 10, 2014, accessed September 4, 2015,
[4] Milan Vego, “On Littoral Warfare,” Naval War College Review68, No. 2 (Spring 2015): 41.
[5] Some of the more common MPAs include the P-3 Orion, which is in service with nations like New Zealand and Thailand which has a unit cost of US$36 million, according to the U.S. Navy. See
[6] “ScanEagle, United States of America,”, accessed September 5, 2015,
[7] “P-3C Orion Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Canada,”, accessed September 5, 2015,
[8] “ScanEagle, United States of America.”
[9] “Picador, Israel,”, accessed September 5, 2015,
[10] Martin Van Creveld, The Age of Airpower (New York: Public Affairs, 2012), 274.
[11] United States Government Accountability Office, Defense Acquisitions: Assessment of Selected Weapons Program, March 2015, 117.
Reprinted with permission from the Center for International Maritime Security.

Monday, August 24, 2015

UAVs Compete for Dominance in the Arctic

The Arctic Circle is a complex environment of harsh climate, shifting ice flows, and remote, barren wastelands. Much ado has been made of late of the region's potential for alternative shipping routes, resource extraction, and of course, the expanded military presence usually associated with those activities. The vast distances and unforgiving temperatures of Arctic air and waters make unmanned aerial vehicles ideal for military reconnaissance there. Practically all of the countries which border Arctic seas have some sort of UAV programs underway.

One of the primary goals of Canada's troubled Joint Uninhabited Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS) project was to conduct Northern Patrols over the country's Arctic territory. In addition to surveilling the area, the yet to be determined type of JUSTAS UAVs will be required to drop search and rescue kits to distressed mariners.  The program's delays have been largely due to competing requirements between the need for maritime and Arctic patrol and more traditional overland persistent surveillance and targeting mission.  In 2012, a version of Northrop's RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 30 named "Polar Hawk" was proposed for the mission. The Polar Hawk was to have employed the deicing and engine anti-icing capability from the U.S. Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) Program and an enhanced communications package capable of operating within the Arctic's spotty satellite coverage. The system was determined to be too expensive for Canada's requirements. More recently, General Atomics has offered that its jet-powered Predator variant Avenger could meet the JUSTAS requirement.

The U.S. Coast Guard has completed a series of UAV tests from its icebreaker USCGC Healy (WAGB-20), but has also yet to settle on a program of record for its drone surveillance requirements. Both Aerovironment's hand-launched PUMA (see above video) and Insitu's longer ranged catapult-launched ScanEagle were demonstrated. Unmanned air systems may be considered by DARPA for its Future Arctic Sensing Technologies (FAST) research. The FAST solicitation, released in February 2015, is intended to develop "low-cost, rapidly-deployable, environmentally friendly, unmanned sensor systems, including deployment and data reach-back from above the Arctic Circle that can detect, track and identify air, surface and subsurface targets."

Russia has staked aggressive claims to the Arctic and conducted a series of military exercises in the region. The country is building a string of 13 airfields and ten air-defense radar stations and 16 deepwater ports on its Arctic territory.  One of the aircraft flying from these sites on reconnaissance missions is the Orlan-10. The catapult launched UAV is deployed from the Eastern Military District and capable of operating for up to 15 hours.

Russian Orlan 10
Scandinavian countries will not be left out of the Arctic drone race.  In 2013, the Danish Defense Ministry updated its military strategies to place a greater importance on the acquisition of extreme climate UAVs to enhance patrol of its vast Arctic claims. Denmark's own Sky-Watch is developing the hybrid Muninn VX1 platform which will operate from ships for cold weather research and surveillance. The Northern Research Institute in Norway (NORUT) flew CryoWing, a UAV especially designed for extreme Arctic temperatures. The Norwegian Coast Guard and Coastal Agency also tested Swedish manufacturer's CybAero Apid 60 unmanned helicopter over the Arctic ocean in 2011-12.