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. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Advancing Autonomous Systems: Rough Seas Ahead for Command & Control

by Prof Mark Nissen, NPS, mnissen(at)

Command & control (C2)[1] is quintessentially important to military endeavors. As Joint Publication 6-0[2] elaborates authoritatively (I-1): “Effective C2 is vital for proper integration and employment of capabilities.” Further, our contemporary and informed understanding of C2 indicates that it applies to much more than just the technologic underpinnings of command and control systems. As Naval Doctrine Publication 6[3] reinforces: “… technology has broadened the scope and increased the complexity of command and control, but its [C2] foundations remain constant: professional leadership, competence born of a high level of training, flexibility in organization and equipment, and cohesive doctrine.”

Joint Publication 6-0 expounds (I-2): “Although families of hardware are often referred to as systems, the C2 system is more than simply equipment. High-quality equipment and advanced technology do not guarantee adequate communications or effective C2. Both start with well-trained and qualified people supported by an effective guiding philosophy and procedures.” Indeed, the first element of C2 is people: “Human beings—from the senior commander framing a strategic concept to a junior Service member calling in a situation report—are integral components of the C2 system and not merely users.” This concept is embedded deeply within our research, engineering, leadership, command, control and operation of manned systems (e.g., airplanes, ships, networks), forces and operations.

In contrast, however, a great many researchers, engineers, leaders, commanders, controllers and operators of autonomous systems (e.g., unmanned vehicles, robots, cyber applications) concentrate principally—if not exclusively—on technology, paying scant attention to the people, processes and organizations required for command, control and mission efficacy. This leaves a dearth—if any—residual attention to C2 of autonomous systems today. Given the quintessential importance of C2, such technologic focus is problematic, particularly where large-scale, joint or coalition operations are considered.

Moreover, today’s problems portend to become tomorrow’s vulnerabilities. As our research looks five to ten years into the future, not only do we foresee ever increasing technologic advancement of autonomous systems, but we preview it combined with ever increasing integration of manned and unmanned systems. In a great many circumstances, teams of autonomous systems and people (TASP) will become the norm, with both manned and unmanned systems and operators integrating their complementary attributes and capabilities for outcomes more effective and successful than possible through either manned or unmanned alone.

Especially together, the technologic advancement of autonomous systems and the manned-unmanned integration through TASP imply rough seas ahead for C2. Using the state-of-the-art simulation system POWer [4]  we see, for instance, how current C2 organizations and approaches strain already with multiple unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in common airspace. Consider a joint task force (JTF) environment today, for example, say with only two UAS launched from different ships. Who is the lowest level person in the JTF organization with authority over both unmanned aircraft? It is probably the CTG, who may not even be onboard either ship, which signals a serious issue.

Now exacerbate this issue with multiple UAS— perhaps even a swarm—from multiple ships and shore facilities, flying in common airspace. Then exacerbate it still further with multiple UAS (maybe even operated and controlled by a set of diverse coalition partners) flying in common airspace with manned systems. Far from just the physical control issues (e.g., collision avoidance), how do we integrate manned and unmanned systems and missions to leverage their complementary attributes and capabilities? How do we institute and optimize joint manned-unmanned training? How can we expect for the different people and machines from manned and unmanned squadrons to cohere seamlessly when an integrated mission begins? How, when and to which levels do we delegate TASP mission authority and control? What are the major impediments to effective TASP missions, and what should we be doing now to prepare for and overcome them? These are all important C2 questions that we will need to answer well in advance of TASP missions becoming commonplace in the coming half decade.

Through CRUSER sponsorship and guidance, our POWer[5] research is beginning to answer some of these questions. Examining UAS in use today within the CTG mission environment, as an important place to begin, we’ve identified many troublesome C2 problems already. For one instance, the C2 organization reflects a tall, functional hierarchy, with considerable centralization, substantial formalization and frequent staff rotation. This makes for relatively long information flows and decision chains, coupled with perennial battles against knowledge loss from personnel turnover and challenges with cross-functional (and even more so with joint and coalition) interaction. Many organization experts would argue that the correspondingly long decision chains, information flows and staffing turbulence militate against efficient—or even effective—C2.

As another instance, the formalization inherent within this C2 organization reflects strong dependence upon written standards, rules and procedures (e.g., SOPs, TTPs, PPRs, work standards, job qualifications). However, the continuing technological advance and integration of UAS suggests that formalization through written documents may have a hard time keeping up with rapid and local knowledge onboard various ships and across diverse crews. Although this is a knowledge management problem, as with the long decision chains, information flows and staffing turbulence noted above, many organization experts would argue here that the correspondingly high dependence upon standardization and written documentation militate against efficient—or even effective—C2.

Moreover—and perhaps somewhat counter intuitively—for many years to come, unmanned missions will likely require more planning, monitoring, intervening and like control activities than their manned counterparts. Hence greater numbers of C2 staff—or more skilled and experienced staff members—will be required for unmanned than for manned missions, and such missions will be expected to take more time, suffer from more mistakes, and generally tax the C2 organization more greatly. (Overall, many unmanned missions are still more economic, but they exact greater demands in terms of C2 coordination load.) This eventuality will exacerbate for integrated manned-unmanned events, particularly as we expand across joint and coalition operations.

As a third instance, problematic issues are highly likely to arise also in terms of different skill levels, lack of common training or co-operational experience, and very low—or no—trust between manned and unmanned aircraft operators. A great many manned and unmanned systems personnel are members of different tribes—with distinct cultures and status—that recruit, train, operate and promote separately for the most part. TASP requires manned and unmanned mission integration, flying together in common airspace, and relying integrally upon one another. Imaging telling a Fleet aviator that he or she will have an unmanned wingman!

Of course the simple solution is to keep manned and unmanned systems separate: in separate organizations, in separate airspaces, with separate skill sets, with separate procedures. Such simple solution negates the integrative power and efficacy of TASP, however. Where teams of autonomous systems and people can be more effective than either manned or unmanned systems alone, an adversary can potentially become victorious with C2 sufficiently advanced for TASP. This can be the case even where the technology of our manned and unmanned systems is superior. In other words, advances in C2 may trump superior technology.

So where do we go from here? Our ongoing research continues to employ POWer to project and analyze the comparative performance of different missions, technology degrees, levels of manned-unmanned integration, and approaches to C2 organization. We compare performance metrics across an array of measures including time for effective mission completion, mission errors and corresponding rework, C2 communication and coordination load, along with mission cost, risk and others.

We also examine UAS across a wide range of technology degrees: from operational UAS in the current inventory, through those undergoing test and evaluation today, to future systems envisioned with performance levels matching—and even surpassing—those achievable only through manned systems today. This enables us to examine a correspondingly wide array of C2 organizations and approaches, mis- sion scenarios, technology degrees and levels of manned-unmanned mission integration, from those taking place in current operations through counterparts likely five to ten years hence.

Further, POWer supports computational experiments that allow us to examine this wide array in a very systematic and precise manner. Changing the level of only one variable at a time—or analyzing suites of level changes across multiple variables simultaneously—we can ascribe resulting performance differences specifically and unambigu- ously to each such level change, and we can explain precisely how each variable—independent, dependent or control—is defined, operationalized and manipulated. This supports exceedingly high reliability and internal validity through our experiments.

Moreover, the cost of computational experiments is exceptionally low, and the speed is exceptionally high, so we can assess hundreds or thousands—even millions—of different scenarios in short periods of time, with no risk of losing valuable equipment or people (e.g., as can occur through lab and field experiments) in the process. This capability equips us to peer well into the future, to make informed decisions, and to take dominating actions, not only regarding which alternate futures to select, but also regarding how to achieve each future in a competitively advantageous way.

In light of the issues identified above, we’re looking in particular at how to address the long decision chains, information flows and staffing turbulence that militate against efficient or effective C2 at present, and we’re concentrating on managing the kinds of fast-changing local knowledge that challenges even the best efforts in terms of written standards, rules and procedures. We’re considering further how to decrease the coordination load on C2 of unmanned systems, and we continue to envision alternate approaches to the integrated recruiting, training, promotion and performance of manned and unmanned operators.

In the near future, we anticipate laying out a list of highly promising, agile approaches to adapting C2 in response to such issues, with a set of milestone markers to signal when each will likely become most appropriate, and a set of plans for how to effect each of them. The idea is to peer sufficiently far into the future so that we can provide leaders, policy makers and technologists today with the time and guidance needed for them to prepare for and navigate the rough seas ahead.

[1] The term C2 as discussed here subsumes and largely replaces the myriad extension of “Cs” (e.g., C3, C3I, C4, C4I, C4ISR, C5I).
[2]  JP6-0, Joint Publication 6-0: Joint Communication System Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs of Staff (2015).
[3]  NDP6, Naval Doctrine Publication 6: Naval Command and Control Washington, DC: Department of the Navy (1995).
[4]  POWer derives from the VDT Group at Stanford and has been tailored and validated to simulate the qualitative and quantitative behaviors of C2 organizations, approaches, personnel and systems.
[5]  See, for example, Nissen, M.E. and Place, W.D., “Computational Experimentation to Understand C2 for Teams of Autonomous Systems and People,” Technical Report NPS-14-007, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA (December 2014).

Reprinted with permission from the Naval Postgraduate School's 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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Operating in an Era of Persistent Unmanned Aerial Surveillance

By William Selby
In the year 2000, the United States military used Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) strictly for surveillance purposes and the global commercial UAS market was nascent. Today, the combination of countries exporting complex UAS technologies and an expanding commercial UAS market advances the spread of UAS technologies outside of U.S. government control. The propagation of this technology from both the commercial and military sectors will increase the risk of sophisticated UASs becoming available to any individual or group, regardless of their intent or financial resources. Current and future adversaries, including non-state actors, are likely to acquire and integrate UASs into their operations against U.S. forces. However, U.S. forces can reduce the advantages of abundant UAS capability by limiting the massing of resources and by conducting distributed operations with smaller maneuver elements.
Leveraging the Growth in the Commercial UAS Market
While armed UAS operations are only associated with the U.S., UK, and Israel, other countries with less restrictive export controls are independently developing their own armed UAS systems. Chinese companies continue to develop reconnaissance and armed UASs for export to emerging foreign markets. Earlier this year, social media reports identified a Chinese CH-3 after it crashed in Nigeria. Reports indicate China sold the system to the Nigerian government for use against Boko Haram. Other countries including Pakistan and Iran organically developed armed UAS capabilities, with claims of varying levels of credibility. In an effort to capitalize on the international UAS market and to build relationships with allies, the U.S. eased UAS export restrictions in early 2015 while announcing the sale of armed UASs to the Netherlands. Military UAS development is expected to be relatively limited, with less than 0.5 percent of expected future global defense spending slated to buying or developing military drones. For now, long range surveillance and attack UASs are likely to remain restricted to the few wealthy and technologically advanced countries that can afford the research costs, training, and logistical support associated with such systems. However, short range military or civilian UASs are likely to be acquired by non-state actors primarily for surveillance purposes.
Still captured from an ISIS documentary with footage shot from a UAS over the Iraqi city of Fallujah(
Still captured from an ISIS documentary with footage shot from a UAS over the Iraqi city of Fallujah(
HamasHezbollahLibyan militants, and ISIS are reportedly using commercial UASs to provide surveillance support for their military operations. Current models contain onboard GPS receivers for autonomous navigation and a video transmission or recording system that allows the operators to collect live video for a few thousand dollars or less. Small UASs, similar in size to the U.S. military’s Group 1 UASs, appeal to non-state actors for several reasons. Namely, they are inexpensive to acquire, can be easily purchased in the civilian market, and are simple to maintain. Some systems can be operated with very little assembly or training, which reduces the need for substantial technical knowledge and enables non-state actors to immediately integrate them into daily operations. These UASs are capable of targeting restricted areas as evidenced by the recent UAS activity near the White HouseFrench nuclear power plants, and the Japanese Prime Minister’s roof. The small size and agility of these UASs allow them to evade traditional air defense systems yet specific counter UAS systems are beginning to show progress beyond the prototype phase.
Economic forecasters may dispute commercial UAS sales predictions, but most agree that this market is likely to see larger growth than the military market. Countries are currently attempting to attract emerging UAS businesses by developing UAS regulations that will integrate commercial UASs into their national airspace. The increase of hobby and commercial UAS use is likely to lead to significant investments in both hardware and software for these systems. Ultimately, this will result in a wider number of platforms with an increased number of capabilities available for purchase at a lower cost. Future systems are expected to come with obstacle avoidance systems, a wider variety of modular payloads, and extensive training support systems provided by a growing user community. Hybrid systems will address the payload, range, and endurance limitations of the current platforms by combining aspects of rotor and fixed wing aerial vehicles. The dual-use nature of these commercial systems will continue to be an issue. Google and Amazon are researching package delivery systems that can potentially be repurposed to carry hazardous materials. Thermal, infrared, and multispectral cameras used for precision agriculture can also provide non-state actors night-time surveillance and the ability to peer through limited camouflage. However, non-state actors will likely primarily use hobby and commercial grade platforms in an aerial surveillance role, since current payload limitations prevent the platforms from carrying a significant amount of hazardous material. 
Minimizing the Advantages of Non-State Actor’s UAS Surveillance
As these systems proliferate, even the most resource-limited adversaries are expected to have access to an aerial surveillance platform. Therefore, friendly operations must adapt in an environment of perceived ubiquitous surveillance. Despite the limited range and endurance of these small UASs, they are difficult to detect and track reliably. Therefore, one must assume the adversary is operating these systems if reporting indicates they possess them. Force protection measures and tactical level concepts of operations can be modified to limit the advantages of ever-present and multi-dimensional surveillance by the adversary. At the tactical level, utilizing smoke and terrain to mask movement and the use of camouflage nets or vegetation for concealment can be effective countermeasures. The principles of deception, stealth, and ambiguity will take on increasing importance as achieving any element of surprise will become far more difficult. 
The upcoming 3DR Solo UAS will feature autonomous flight and camera control with real time video streaming for $1,000 (
The upcoming 3DR Solo UAS will feature autonomous flight and camera control with real time video streaming for $1,000 (
At static locations such as forward operating bases or patrol bases, a high frequency of operations, including deception operations, can saturate the adversary’s intelligence collection and processing capabilities and disguise the intent of friendly movements. Additionally, massing strategic resources at static locations will incur increasing risk. In 2007 for example, insurgents used Google Earth imagery of British bases in Basra to improve the accuracy of mortar fire. The adversary will now have near real time geo-referenced video available which can be combined with GPS guided rockets, artillery, mortars and missiles to conduct rapid and accurate attacks. These attacks can be conducted with limited planning and resources, yet produce results similar to the 2012 attack at Camp Bastion which caused over $100 million in damages and resulted in the combat ineffectiveness of the AV-8B squadron.
In environments without the need for an enduring ground presence, distributed operations with smaller maneuver elements will reduce the chance of strategic losses while concurrently making it harder for the adversary to identify and track friendly forces. Interestingly, operational concepts developed by several of the services to assure access in the face of sophisticated anti-access/area denial threats can also minimalize the impact of the UAS surveillance capabilities of non-state actors. The Navy has the Distributed Lethality concept, the Air Force is testing the Rapid Raptor concept, and the Army’s is developing its Pacific Pathways concept. The Marine Corps is implementing its response, Expeditionary Force 21 (EF21), through several Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Forces.
The EF21 concept focuses on using high-speed aerial transport, such as the MV-22, to conduct dispersed operations with Company Landing Teams that are self-sufficient for up to a week.  In December 2013, 160 Marines flew over 3,400 miles in KC-130s and MV-22s from their base in Spain to Uganda in order to support the embassy evacuation in South Sudan, demonstrating the EF21 concept. Utilizing high speed and long-range transport allows friendly forces to stage outside of the adversary’s ground and aerial surveillance range. This prevents the adversary from observing any patterns that could allude to the mission of the friendly force and also limits exposure to UAS surveillance. Advances in digital communications, including VTCs and mesh-networks, can reduce the footprint of the command center making these smaller forces more flexible without reducing capabilities. The small size of these units also reduces their observable signatures and limits the ability of the adversary to target massed forces and resources.
Confronting the Approaching UAS Free-Rider Dilemma
Non-state actors capitalize on the ability to rapidly acquire and implement sophisticated technologies without having to invest directly in their development. These organizations did not pay to develop the Internet or reconnaissance satellites, yet they have Internet access to high-resolution images of the entire globe. It took years for the U.S. to develop the ability to live stream video from the Predator UAS but now anyone can purchase a hobby UAS that comes with the ability to live stream HD video to YouTube for immediate world-wide distribution. As the commercial market expands, so will the capabilities of these small UAS systems, democratizing UAS technology. Systems that cannot easily be imported, such as advanced communications relays, robust training pipelines, and sophisticated logistics infrastructure can now be automated and outsourced. This process will erode the air dominance that the U.S. enjoyed since WWII, now that commercial investments allow near peers to acquire key UAS technologies that approach U.S. UAS capabilities.
The next generation of advanced fighters may be the sophisticated unmanned vehicles envisioned by Navy Secretary Ray Maybus. However, other countries could choose a different route by sacrificing survivability for cheaper, smaller, and smarter UAS swarms that will directly benefit from commercial UAS investments. Regardless of the strategic direction military UASs take, commercial and hobby systems operating in an aerial surveillance role will remain an inexpensive force multiplier for non-state actors. Fortunately, the strategic concepts developed and implemented by the services to counter the proliferation of advanced anti-air and coastal defense systems can be leveraged to minimalize the impact of unmanned aerial surveillance by the adversary. Distributed operations limit the massing of resources vulnerable to UAS assisted targeting while long-range insertions of small maneuver elements reduces the exposure of friendly forces to UAS surveillance. Nation states and non-state actors will continue to benefit from technological advances without investing resources in their development, pushing U.S. forces to continually update operational concepts to limit the increasing capabilities of the adversary.
William Selby is a Marine officer who completed studies at the US Naval Academy and MIT researching robotics and unmanned systems. He previously served with 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines and is currently stationed in Washington, DC. Follow him @wilselby or Reprinted with permission from the Center for International Maritime Security.