Thursday, November 7, 2013

Rand on USVs

 ODIM Brooke Ocean USV Concept
The U.S. Navy has experimented with Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) for several years now, but has not yet deployed any in operational roles.  At the direction of the Chief of Naval Operations, Assessment Division (OPNAV N81), the RAND Corp has released the definitive study on Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV) for naval use.  The study analyzed the suitability of USVs for 62 different naval missions (yes, there are that many).  USVs were compared to other platforms, including manned, and unmanned (UUVs and UAVs).

According to the report, USVs are more suitable than other platforms in missions requiring longer endurance, higher power availability for payloads, and the ability to interface “cross domain” sensors and with other platforms above, on, and below the water.  The report also highlighted the favorability of this type of platform in dangerous anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) environments, where they could collect intelligence, and conduct electronic warfare operations such as jamming and spoofing without risk to manned crews.  As we have discussed here before, advances in autonomy – especially as it relates to navigation and collision avoidance – and “assured communications” will be vital in helping USVs (and other unmanned platforms) to reach their potential in A2AD warfare.    Optional manning on larger USVs during certain aspects of the mission profile was another RAND recommendation to mitigate some of these concerns. 

A variety of other topics were addressed, including modularity, logistics, program sponsorship and acquisition.  The study briefly mentioned the issue of “community sponsorship,” which deals with what organization will own, operate, and maintain USVs, a topic with room for further exploration.  Naval aviation is more mature in this area with the recent establishment of unmanned and hybrid UAV squadrons.  The  study is worth reading for those interested in this emerging capability.