Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Worth a Listen: CIMSEC's Unmanned Naval Vessel Podcast

seacontrolemblemThe Center for International Maritime Security's most recent "Sea Control" podcast features an interesting and wide-ranging discussion on future unmanned and optionally-manned naval systems.  Much of the discussion revolves around the challenges of operating large surface ships without manpower, to include some of the more mundane functions, such as maintenance.

Alex Clarke, of the Phoenix Think Tank, proposed the concept of an "unmanned wingman" for Offshore Patrol Vessels performing remote operations.  He also mentioned the possibility of USVs taking on the role of the T-AGOs towed array sonar operations for anti-submarine warfare. Essentially, this concept mirrors what DARPA's ACTUV program intends to do. 

Other topics of consideration are unmanned alternatives to aircraft carriers, the difficult question of whether destroying an unmanned vehicle is an act of war, and command and control schemes. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Short Range Wireless Power Transfer (WPT) for UAV/UAS Battery Charging

Editor's note: Reprinted with permission from the Naval Postgraduate School's CRUZER News.

by Professor David Jenn, NPS Electrical Engineering Faculty, jenn(at)

There are numerous advantages of wireless power transfer (WPT) for many remote energy source and battery charging applications. In a WPT system, power is transmitted wirelessly from a base station to a client. The concept was first demonstrated for vehicle propulsion in the mid 1960s. More recently, WPT has been used for charging wireless devices, and commercial WPT charging technologies have appeared on the market under the names Witricity and Energous.

Measurement setup used to obtain efficiency and coil installed in a UAV hull
(photo courtesy NPS).
In a typical WPT system, prime power is provided by the base station, converted to radio frequency, and then transferred through space to a receiving coil or antenna. On the client side the received power is filtered, transformed in voltage, and subsequently delivered to the battery or power plant.

Inductive systems use two coils with one located in the charging station and the second in the device. Energy is transferred by the magnetic fields linking the coils. At the receiving coil, circuits are required to rectify and condition the output voltage for charging the battery. Inductive systems generally operate at low frequencies (< 10 MHz). Efficiencies greater than 95% have been achieved, but only at very short distances (a maximum of several cm) and alignment of the coils is critical.

Radiative WPT systems use two antennas rather than coils, and the energy is transferred by a propagating wave. The receiving antenna has an integrated rectifier, and is called a rectenna. Radiative systems operate at higher frequencies than inductive systems (> 1 GHz), and suffer a (1/distance)2 propagation loss. High gain antennas can be used to increase the received power, but they become physically large. The use of antennas has advantages though. Solid state arrays allow full control of the antenna excitation, which permits scanning and focusing of the beam. This capability relaxes the alignment requirements between the two antennas. Radiative systems can be designed to operate at distances of tens of meters or more.

A disadvantage of radiative systems is that it they are more susceptible to environmental conditions. To minimize loss, a clear line-of-sight in air is desirable. Therefore, this approach cannot be used for
vehicles submerged in water or buried in wet ground. However it can be used for ground vehicles, air vehicles on the ground, or even warfighter packed equipment.

Other issues that must be considered when using electromagnetic energy are safety and interference. Because of the short ranges and relatively low power involved, safety should not be an issue and the interference introduced by a practical WPT system will be limited to same platform (self) interference.

In Phase I of the study (completed in FY14) both approaches were simulated using commercial software. For the inductive case, working at 100 kHz, efficiencies over 90% were achieved at short ranges (less than 30 mm). A frequency of 100 kHz was used to allow the system to operate in seawater without suffering decreased efficiency due to the water resistance. For the radiative approach, the transmission loss between antennas was less than 1 dB at ranges less than 3 m when near field focusing was employed. The results are important because they demonstrate that efficient transmission of energy can take place between the WPT ground station and a client for both approaches.

The next phase in the research is to demonstrate efficient rectifying and battery charging circuits. It includes the design of a practical interface between the coils, and optimization of the rectifying and charging circuit. The demonstration of an inductive system is planned in FY15.
Full Report available at  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Representation of Unmanned Systems in Naval Analytical Modeling and Simulation: What are we really simulating?

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted with permission from the Naval Postgraduate School's "CRUSER News.

By Professor Curtis Blais, faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School's Modeling, Virtual Environments and Simulation (MOVES) Institute. Contact: clblais(at) 

Combat models are used in major assessments such as Quadrennial Defense Reviews for Naval system acquisition and future force structure decisions. For several years, the Navy has been adding capabilities to the Synthetic Theater Operations Research Model (STORM) originally developed by the U.S. Air Force. Similarly, the Army and Marine Corps employ a specific analytical model called the Combined Arms Analysis Tool for the 21st Century (COMBATXXI) to evaluate major proposed changes in materiel and associated warfighting operations and tactics. The CRUSER Charter identifies numerous Naval initiatives for study and development of unmanned systems, such as the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) squadron, Large Diameter Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (LDUUVs), and an integrated Family of Robotic Systems to augment the capabilities of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) / Fleet.

Image Courtesy of NPS MOVES Institute
The Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY2013-2038 indicates the Presidential Budget for Fiscal Year 2014 was over four billion dollars (covering research, development, test, and evaluation, procurement, and operations and maintenance). With such current initiatives and high-valued expenditures occurring with respect to unmanned systems, there is concern that expected improvements to warfighter effectiveness, through tactics, techniques, or procedures, are not well supported by analytical processes and findings.

Initial investigation of models such as STORM and COMBATXXI that support studies for major decisions indicates that these simulations are largely deficient in representations of such emerging systems. Without such representations, it is not possible
to conduct studies investigating future force structures (e.g., 2020 and beyond) involving significant employment of unmanned systems. Instead, it appears that decisions are being made without an analytical basis that can show the benefits, limitations, and challenges (manpower, training, logistics,
combat service support, vulnerabilities, etc.) of introduction of such systems into the battlespace.
Starting in late 2014, we began investigating capabilities of these critical Naval analytical models to identify improvements needed in representations of unmanned system capabilities that can improve the scope and value of studies conducted using such tools. This is an initial effort to bring improved representations of unmanned systems into analytical environments, recognizing that it is part of a larger need to bring such representations into gaming environments for concept exploration, into constructive simulations for experimentation and mission planning, and into training environments for low-level (operator) to high-level (staff) skill development.

Interestingly, the initial research is raising a new thesis—that current analytical models actually possess, though unintentionally, a higher fidelity representation of autonomous systems than they do of human-operated systems! If this is true, users of current models must change their perspectives considerably. It is well recognized that a major challenge in modeling and simulation is representation of the human element in combat, reflecting human characteristics such as training, fatigue, unit cohesion, intuition, etc. The lack of such modeling extends to the operation of systems by humans, including the operation of robotic systems (teleoperated). In many respects, it may be argued that current models of the battlespace provide a reasonably accurate depiction of diverse land, air, sea autonomous systems interacting in the battlespace, while poorly representing the human element in the operation of warfare systems. How this change in perspective in understanding the capabilities and validity of current models will affect the modeling & simulation and analytical communities remains to be seen but clearly needs further study. A key issue becomes determining how to better distinguish humans and human-operated systems from autonomous systems so that the models can more correctly represent all of these systems, and their interactions, in the battlespace.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Largest Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Swarm

Researchers at Austria's University of Graz have demonstrated the largest collection of swarming autonomous underwater vehicles with their Collective Cognitive Robots (CoCoRo) project.  A total of 41 autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) were assembled for recent swarm testing at the University's Artificial Life Lab. Though funded by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7) with the intention of developing civilian innovations for environmental monitoring and research, CoCoRo has implications for future military unmanned underwater vehicle swarm activity. 

Under development since 2011, CoCoRo's swarm demonstration consists of three types of robots: Jeff is an agile fish-like robot with various pressure and magnetic sensors for obstacle detection, avoidance, and navigation.  The swarm also featured 20 saucer-shaped Lily robots that randomly search for objects while communicating with each other using blue-LED lights.  The final robot is a semi-submersible catamaran base station which serves as a platform for the vehicles to autonomously dock allowing the swarm to communicate its location (via GPS) and activities with humans as well as to other base stations.  Eventually, using this method, swarms in multiple geographic areas could coordinate search areas with one another. A dock could also provide a future means to recharge the AUVs and transport them from one location to another.
Bio-inspired algorithms enable the swarm to work together to locate magnetic targets and aggregate around them.  On a larger scale, this behavior has viability for naval unmanned underwater vehicles that could be used in underwater surveys, search and recovery, or mine counter-measures operations

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014: The Year in Naval Drones

It's time for our annual wrap-up of the stories on unmanned naval systems that most resonated on this site, social media feeds, and the public writ large.  Here are the top naval drone stories of the year:

The introduction of UAVs for maritime missions by non-state actors, specifically migrant rescue and anti-piracy, became reality.

The Royal Navy established a UAV Squadron to intitutionalize its ScanEagle operations.

Despite continued operational testing with the X-47B prototype, politics and indecision created further delays with the U.S. Navy's UCLASS RFP (still not released by the way).

Unmanned systems were key in the Malaysian Airlines Flight #370 Search.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout made significant strides towards its first operational deployment.

The U.S. Navy's Swarming USV program, really a plug and play unmanned craft system, garnered significant interest.

Interestingly, the story that seemed to pick up the most momentum in non-military circles was the Navy's Ghostswimmer UUV.  And that's interesting because this system is neither really new, nor particularly likely to ever be employed operationally.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Chief of Naval Operations Continues Focus on Unmanned Systems

2 May 2014 - Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert tours Pennsylvania State University's Applied Research Laboratory facilities to see firsthand their innovative anti-torpedo torpedoes and unmanned undersea vehicles. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/Released)
Since he assumed office in 2011, the development of unmanned systems payloads has been a priority during the tenure of U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathon Greenert.  His recent Position Report provides updates to several programs discussed in his original Navigation Plan.

Highlights related to unmanned systems include:

Undersea Warfare
"In the fall of 2014, our large displacement unmanned undersea vehicle (LDUUV) program reached
its first acquisition gate, Milestone A, which initiated technology development."

Unmanned Air Systems
"We continued testing the X-47B Unmanned Carrier Aircraft System Demonstrator, and for the first time, we executed simultaneous flight operations with manned and unmanned aircraft in the carrier
environment." Interesting, there is no mention of the oft-delayed UCLASS program request for proposal.

 "MQ-8B Fire Scout completed its 10th deployment aboard FFGs. Nineteen larger and longer endurance MQ-8C Fire Scout vehicles are now on contract, and the first MQ-8C deployment aboard LCS will occur in 2015."

Target Systems
"To improve combat readiness at sea, we also delivered 111 high speed surface targets (small craft), which are used to enhance the realism of fleet training events involving “swarm tactics.” To provide
continued training against air threats to our surface forces, we awarded a contract for a new Aerial Target Operations Facility at Dam Neck, VA. When it opens in 2017, it will consolidate all aerial target operations into a single facility, and provide an increased capability to operate three different types of aerial targets."
15 November 2014 - Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert examines a Switchblade UAS during a recent visit to AeroVironment Inc. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/Released)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Minehunting Robots in the Middle East: IMCMEX 2014

This year's United States FIFTH Fleet's International Mine Countermeasures Exercise is well underway in Middle East waters, running until 13 November.  This third iteration of the exercise will be the largest ever, with 6,500 sailors from 44 nations and 38 ships participating.  As with past exercises, unmanned undersea vehicle detachments from several countries will show off their latest hardware in a realistic operating environment.  A total of 19 UUVs will take part in the waters of the Arabian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the northern Red Sea.  On the U.S. side, a focus will be placed on overcoming unmanned mine-countermeasures challenges including the transfer of sensor data at sea, reducing unmanned mission duration, and enhancing trust in autonomy. 

One of the new unmanned technologies to be demonstrated during the exercise is Northrop Grumman's Mine-Hunting Unit (MHU) .  The MHU unmanned surface vehicle tested its ability to deploy, tow, and retrieve the AQS-24A Mine Detecting Sensor in the Arabian Gulf earlier this year. Other unmanned vehicles participating in the IMCMEX are highlighted below.

KUWAIT (Oct. 29, 2014) Sailors assigned to Commander, Task Group(CTG) 56.1 inform members of the Kuwait Naval Force about the Kingfish Underwater Unmanned Vehicle and dive gear scheduled to be used during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX). (U.S. Navy Photo).
GULF OF AQABA, Jordan (Nov. 1, 2014) British Royal Navy Clearance Diver Leading Seaman David Taylor, left, and Clearance Diver Leading Seaman Jim Craker, both from Fleet Diving Unit 3 and assigned to Task Group 522.3, monitor the progress of the REMUS underwater sonar system while participating in International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX).  (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel Rolston/ Released)

MANAMA, Bahrain (November 3, 2014) A SeaFox mine neutralization vehicle is lowered into the Arabian Gulf from the British Royal Navy mine hunter HMS Atherstone (M38) - (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Mui/Released)