Saturday, November 3, 2012

U.S. CNO Makes Unmanned Systems a Priority

PALMDALE, Calif. (Aug. 8, 2012) Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert observes a fly-by demonstration of a Predator C Avenger unmanned aerial vehicle. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Lawlor/Released)
In a nod to maritime tradition, the new Chief of Naval Operations set forth a "Navigation Plan" with budgetary priorities and a route to achieve the vision he set in the "Sailing Directions" for 2013-2017.  Admiral Greenert's prioritization of unmanned systems for the U.S. fleet in these documents is anything but archaic.  Seven of the CNO's 34 budget focus areas directly address unmanned systems, including:
  • "Increase near-term mine warfare capability with Quickstrike mines; the Seafox Mine Neutralization System; upgraded MCM-1 class ship sonar, hull, and engineering upgrades; and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV) for shallow and bottom mine detection.
  • Improve near-term capability to counter fast attack craft by fielding enhanced gun and surface-to-surface missile systems for Patrol Coastal (PC) ships and Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and laser-guided rockets for helicopters and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).
  • Move new platforms under development and construction to the Fleet: LCS, Ford-class carrier, America-class amphibious assault ship, Zumwalt-class destroyer, P-8A Poseidon, Joint Strike Fighter, and Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UAV.
  • Improve the reach of today’s platforms through new payloads of more capable weapons, sensors, and unmanned vehicles to include: SM-6 missile, submarine-launched conventional strike weapon, long range surface-to-surface weapon, Air and Missile Defense Radar, Firescout UAVs, and the Unmanned Carrier–Launched Air Surveillance and Strike vehicle.
  • Maintain our warfighting edge and implement the Navy/Air Force Air- Sea Battle Concept through innovation in our CONOPS and tactics, and integration of the next generation of weapons, sensors, and unmanned vehicle payloads for our current ships and aircraft.
  • Continue to dominate the undersea environment with a combination of Virginia-class submarines, Virginia-class Payload Modules, improved torpedos such as the Mk-54 lightweight torpedo and P-8A High-Altitude ASW Weapon Capability, and Large Displacement UUV.
  • Field improved Firescout UAVs, LCS, and Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) to support counterterrorism and irregular warfare missions at sea and ashore."
The CNO recently released the first of regulary updated "Position Reports" to assess how well the Navy is meeting its goals.  Highlights with direct or indirect reference to unmanned systems are:
  • "We deployed (and will keep) in the Arabian Gulf new mine hunting and neutralizing equipment, improved torpedoes; advance electromagnetic sensors, "up-gunned" patrol craft, and USS PONCE as an afloat forward staging base.
  • We honed our coalition mine hunting and mine clearing skills with an international mine warfare exercise in the Arabian Gulf that included 34 international partners.
  • We improved our undersea dominance, particularly in the Asia-Pacific, introducing P-8A patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, upgraded torpedoes, and new unmanned underwater vehicles and sonars; additionally, we commissioned two new subs. 
  • We will continue developing fielding and integrating unmanned air vehicles into air wings including X-47B UCAS-D and UCLASS. 
  • We will sustain our undersea dominance by implementing a networked approach including aircraft, subs, off-board sensors, communications and unmanned vehicles."
Clearly, progress has been made this year towards reaching the goals set in the CNO's Navigation Plan.  Research and development programs, the pace of acquisitions, and operational experimentation all demonstrate an eye towards full integration of naval drones into tomorrow's fleet. 

Greenert isn't the first CNO to emphasize unmanned systems.  At the 2010 Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) Unmanned Systems North America 2010 conference, previous CNO Gary Roughead noted that "in the United States we are in the process of reimagining naval power with cyber power and unmanned systems."  On the challenges of deploying an unmanned carrier aircraft he said that "my thinking is that it’s too damn slow, seriously... We have got to have a sense of urgency about getting this stuff out there. And I am encouraged by what we are seeing with that capability and I understand the complexities.”

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