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.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Joint Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Swarming Integration Testing

by F. Patrick Filbert, Subject Matter Analyst-UAS, frederic.filbert.ctr(at)

As technology improves, so does the capacity to expand a defensive perimeter to ever increasing ranges both horizontally and vertically. Identifying ways to penetrate this perimeter with assets and capabilities that do not require ever more expensive solutions requires creative use of current and emerging technological advances. Potential adversaries understand the United States (U.S.) is extremely technologically advanced with its warfighting systems. This requires a thinking enemy to develop ways to keep America’s advanced systems outside their sphere of influence; specifically, to both deny and create an inability to gain access to specific areas of operation. In the current vernacular, this is called creating an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environment which has, as its backbone, advanced integrated air defense systems (IADS).

A Bit of History 
Being able to provide a “layered” offensive capability with manned kinetic/non-kinetic payload armed aircraft has been done for some time. One example is how a joint Army-Air Force helicopter team (Task Force Normandy: comprised of U.S. Air Force (AF) MH-53J/PAVE LOW III and Army AH-64/APACHE attack helicopters) blinded Iraqi IADS early warning radars with non-kinetic electronic attack (PAVE LOW IIIs) and destroyed the radars (APACHES) with kinetic weapon's strikes (i.e., HELLFIRE missile, HYDRA rocket, and 25mm cannon fire) in the opening minutes of Operation Desert Storm to allow follow-on USAF strike aircraft access through coverage “holes” in Iraqi IADS to attack key targets further into Iraq.1 Similarly, future use of an advanced wave of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) equipped with electronic warfare (EW) payloads leading a subsequent wave of attacking aircraft from carrier strike groups is one potential way to enter and counter a potential adversary’s A2/AD environment.

Notional Air Defense Network
However, while emerging EW payload testing on UAS is occurring, mating electronic attack (EA) payloads onto a coordinated semi- or fully-autonomous swarm of smaller unmanned aircraft (UA) is still an emergent test environment effort. However, once such capabilities mature, being able to employ them requires that a foundational concept be in place. The Joint Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Swarming Integration (JUSI) Quick Reaction Test (QRT) was directed on February 27, 2015 by the Deputy Director, Air Warfare under the authority of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation to address such a foundational approach.

The JUSI QRT was established under the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation’s Joint Test and Evaluation Program on July 29, 2015. It is colocated with U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) J8 Resources and Assessment Directorate, Camp H.M. Smith, Oahu, Hawaii. The JUSI QRT reports to the AF Joint Test Program Office (AFJO), Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and receives support from USPACOM J81 (Joint Innovation and Experimentation Division). The JUSI QRT will develop, test, and validate a concept of employment (CONEMP) for the integration and synchronization of swarming UA performing EA in support of the joint force against an advanced IADS. The JUSI QRT effort is focused on a 2015-2020 timeframe to research and identify previous and ongoing swarm related efforts while building a swarming UA community of interest, concurrent with CONEMP development.

Advanced Integrated Air Defenses and How to Address Them – The Problem 
Modern surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems are an integral part of advanced IADS. These IADS are, in turn, integral parts of a potential adversary’s networked A2/AD environment. For the purpose of the JUSI QRT effort, IADS refers to a networked system of adversary capabilities (e.g., a series of detection and tracking radars coupled with SAMs) and not specific to one platform (i.e., an IADS on a warship by itself or a specific individual SAM such as an SA-20).

Notional Integrated Air Defense System 
The joint forces do not currently have adequate ways to fully plan, integrate, or synchronize the effects delivered by UA swarms. This requires development and testing of a foundational CONEMP offering an effective planning methodology for delivering integrated effects of UA swarms against advanced IADS protecting targets with threat SAM arrays.

The joint force is currently over-reliant on standoff weapons (SOW) and 4th/5th generation strike platforms to address the A2/AD challenge. UA swarms represent a potential additional approach, complementing existing platforms and weapons systems. Despite rapid technical advances in UA swarming development and demonstrations, the joint force lacks a CONEMP for operations requiring UA swarm-delivered effects. The lack of a CONEMP or other supporting documentation hinders requirements development, A2/ AD countering, and precludes integration and synchronization with the rest of the joint force.The joint force is currently over-reliant on standoff weapons (SOW) and 4th/5th generation strike platforms to address the A2/AD challenge. UA swarms represent a potential additional approach, complementing existing platforms and weapons systems. Despite rapid technical advances in UA swarming development and demonstrations, the joint force lacks a CONEMP for operations requiring UA swarm-delivered effects. The lack of a CONEMP or other supporting documentation hinders requirements development, A2/ AD countering, and precludes integration and synchronization with the rest of the joint force.

The Approach – Addressing the Problem 
Combat capable and survivable UA with the capability to perform swarming functions are a new but quickly growing aspect of modern warfare. The JUSI QRT will take the first step to characterize, develop, and evaluate a CONEMP for using multiple UA of various sizes to deliver coordinated EA to enable other weapons and platforms (i.e., various types of SOWs, decoys, jammers, and 4th/5th generation platforms) access to counter A2/AD approaches. With the short lifespan of the JUSI QRT—one year—the effort will focus on CONEMP development supported by a series of modeling and simulation (M&S) runs over the course of three test events. Integrated support by Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory’s (JHU/APL) experienced M&S personnel during each of the test events will enable the QRT to gain data collection for the equivalent of hundreds of swarm flights; thus providing a cost saving aspect concurrent with data analysis to support CONEMP development. JHU/APL will provide M&S and analysis of the execution of UA with EA payloads against scenarios developed to test the UA’s ability to deliver desired effects against an advanced IADS as part of an A2/AD environment.

The resulting qualitative and empirical data, once analyzed, will enable the JUSI QRT Team to assess findings, conclusions, and recommendations to revise the CONEMP between each test event with JUSI QRT’s first test event, which wrapped up on November 20, 2015. Additionally, upon completion of each test event, a Joint Warfighter Advisory Group (JWAG) will be convened to receive test event results—the first JUSI QRT JWAG occurred on December 9, 2015. As the QRT process continues, it will lead to development of a finalized swarming UA CONEMP to provide the link to requirements development and capability integration for the joint force to have a distributed approach to complement existing solutions which focus on 4th/5th generation strike platforms and SOW.

The Way Ahead 
At the end of the JUSI QRT, the resulting CONEMP will provide an effective operational context to inform requirements development, roadmaps and, eventually, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) in several areas, including communication, automation, UA, and EA to deliver intended effects. The CONEMP will also serve to help focus future Department of Defense and industry investment. Future considerations related to swarming UA with EA payloads may include development, testing, and validation of TTP for UA with EA payloads. Such TTP would further reinforce the use of swarming UA by empowering the commander to develop standards in the areas of man- ning, equipping, training, and planning in the joint force. In the interim, the JUSI QRT developed CONEMP will provide planners, trainers, and their supporters with a start point for employment of this capability.

JUSI QRT website:

The author would like to thank Lt Col Matthew “Bulldog” Nicholson, Andrew “Wooly” Wolcott, Don Murvin, Brendan “K-PED” Pederson, and Brock Schmalzel for their guidance and feedback during the writing of this article. 
1 Martin, Jerome V. Lt Col, USAF, “Victory from Above: Air Power Theory and the Conduct of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm,” Air University Press, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL, June 1994. 
2 “New Delhi could have anti-missile shield by 2014,”, August 29, 2011, http://defencenewsofindia.blogspot. com/2011/08/new-delhi-could-have-anti-missile.html#!/2011/08/new-delhicould-have-anti-missile.html, accessed October 8, 2015.

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.