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Naval Drones - What to Expect in 2016

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Looking Back at 2015 
Our highly unscientific Twitter poll below shows what some readers thought were the most significant events in unmanned naval systems for 2015.
Most significant naval drone story of 2015? — Naval Drones (@NavalDrones) December 28, 2015 For details on these stories, see: X-47B RefuelingRussian Kanyon Nuclear UUVUCLASS RFP

And Forward to 2016

What follows are our expectations, hunches, and just wild guesses of the major developments to watch for in naval unmanned systems industry during the coming year.

Sanity Prevails - After spending nearly a billion dollars and more than two decades developing the troubled Remote Minehunting System, the U.S. Navy will cancel the program.  Lockheed's RMS, which was intended to be one of the Littoral Combat Ship's key mission packages, will be replaced by one or more of the growing number of versatile, less expensive mine-countermeasure UUVs.

Also, the Navy will finally make a decision to move forward with two different …

Development and Testing of the Aqua-Quad

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by Dr Kevin Jones, NPS Faculty, kdjones<at>nps.edu 

Under CRUSER funding, a new energy-independent, ultra-long endurance, hybrid-mobility unmanned system has been under development called the Aqua-Quad. It is a concept platform that combines an ocean drifter with a quad-rotor air vehicle, and is intended to be a “launch and forget” asset, typically deployed in small groups or flocks that work as a team to more efficiently meet mission goals. While there are many mission sets where the Aqua-Quad might be advantageous, one in particular, underwater tracking with passive acoustic sensors, was previously addressed in simulation by LT Dillard (MAE, 2014). This has led to current work by LT Cason (USW, 2015), also with contributions by LT Fauci (SE, 2015).

As seen in the figure, a 20-cell photovoltaic (PV) array is distributed around the four propeller disks. These monocrystalline Silicon Sun- Power E60 cells are the only source of energy that the copter has, but are the means to achi…

Unmanned Maritime Systems Operations and Maintenance Lifecycle Costs

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by Dr. Diana Angelis, NPS Faculty, diangeli(at) nps.edu 

The Navy currently has a number of Unmanned Maritime Systems (UMS) that perform a variety of missions including mine countermeasures, maritime security, hydrographic surveying, environmental analysis, special operations, and oceanographic research. While these unmanned systems were rapidly developed and fielded to meet immediate warfighter needs, some of the systems have not been subjected to the normal cost reviews associated with programs of record and in many cases the data required to develop rigorous cost models is limited or unavailable. As a result, the total ownership cost of unmanned maritime systems is not well defined, particularly the costs associated with operations and support.




Dr. Diana Angelis and Mr. Steve Koepenick from SPAWAR have been working on a CRUSER funded project to better understand UMS lifecycle costs with an emphasis on the operations and support costs associated with unmanned underwater vehicles (UU…

Multi-Domain Unmanned Systems Implementation Creates Comprehensive Maritime Situational Awareness

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by Morgan Stritzinger, Public Relations Specialist, Textron Systems, mstritzi(at)textronsystems.com

The collaboration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) extends relative reach, and therefore the operational footprint. The unmanned aircraft and USV work together to extend data link ranges, and the USV can carry, deploy and recover the UUV, thereby extending its range and providing a safer environment for the host vessel. Extending mission capabilities is critical to efficient and effective maritime missions, creating situational awareness that delivers actionable data and value.

Unmanned systems are best suited for tasks too “dull, dirty or dangerous” for their manned counterparts and are a pertinent complementary system to manned asset efforts. This includes repetitive tasks that are more costly for humans to perform or represent opportunity for human error, situations in extreme weather and environmental conditi…

UCLASS: Breaking the Analysis Paralysis

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As the requirements definition for the U.S. Navy's unmanned carrier aircraft (UCLASS)  program to develop a long duration, carrier-based unmanned air system sits stalled awaiting an ongoing Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) ISR UAV review due sometime this fiscal year, one thing is sure: the longer the decision is delayed, the later this important capability - in whatever form it eventually may take - will hit the fleet. The aircraft's original initial operating capability has already slipped from 2017 to no earlier than 2023.

Possibly in an attempt to break the ongoing analytical logjam, informed naval analysts have begun to suggest alternatives to the binary decision of simply buying a UCLASS specialized in ISR and light strike or one that is optimized for long-range, penetrating strike.

Bryan McGrath, Deputy Director of the Center for American Seapower, came to realize the importance of a long-range, carrier-based scouting aircraft while researching the report he co-auth…

ASW Drones - An Update

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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 t…

What is an autonomous system? Are we talking about the same things?

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by Curtis Blais, NPS Faculty Associate Research, clblais(at)nps.edu

 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 battlefie…

What's the Buzz? Ship-based Unmanned Aviation and its Influence on Littoral Navies During Combat Operations.

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By Ben Ho Wan Beng Introduction “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 battl…

UAVs Compete for Dominance in the Arctic

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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 …

Advancing Autonomous Systems: Rough Seas Ahead for Command & Control

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by Prof Mark Nissen, NPS, mnissen(at)nps.edu

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 effe…

Operating in an Era of Persistent Unmanned Aerial Surveillance

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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…