Monday, November 16, 2015

Multi-Domain Unmanned Systems Implementation Creates Comprehensive Maritime Situational Awareness

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 conditions, as well as the execution of dangerous tasks such as mine warfare or mine countermeasures, keeping humans out of harm’s way. Unmanned systems allow humans to remain at a standoff distance, while monitoring and maintaining defense in areas of interest.

Today, unmanned systems can be leveraged in airborne, surface and underwater modalities to bring interoperable force multiplication to the fleet.

  • UAS overhead deliver real-time full-motion video. Multimission Small UAS like Aerosonde™ system carry additional sensors, delivering communications relay and electronic warfare capacity, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – simultaneously. 
  • USVs offer flexible payload bays that can be equipped for mission sets from mine countermeasures to counter-piracy. The Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV™) for the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) program is an example. 
  • The U.S. Navy intends to use the UISS as a mine countermeasure system, designed for sweeping of magnetic and acoustic mines. The CUSV will conduct this mission by towing an underwater sweep system. Small unmanned underwater vehicles, or UUVs, are emerging with various capabilities at different depths that can be easily deployed, towed and retrieved from the CUSV. 
Together, these systems can provide the fleet with multi-domain situational awareness and extended reach and operational capability. Multi-platform control allows several systems to be controlled in parallel, collecting data from numerous sensors, enhancing the common operational picture, and allowing task synchronization. This data fusion at the source, rather than separate from the engagement in an intelligence cell, speeds the decision cycle.

Persistence is another critical advantage in implementing multiple unmanned systems in a maritime environment. Unmanned systems provide multi-sensor coverage over vast expanses with significant endurance. 

Supplementing the fleet with unmanned systems also affords value advantages with more streamlined system footprints, logistical requirements and personnel demands. 

Supporting this are interoperable command-and-control (C2) technologies, maintaining system and payload control of all unmanned systems simultaneously. Currently, Textron Systems’ Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS) is the common control station for the Shadow®, Gray Eagle® and Hunter UAS. C2 systems can form the foundation for teaming between unmanned systems in the multi-domain scenario and can also do so for digital interoperability between manned systems such as the AH-64 Apache and unmanned systems like Shadow and Gray Eagle. Finally, common C2 streamlines training, logistics and maintenance needs and costs.

Unmanned systems technology has advanced to create a significant information and capability advantage for maritime operations. This multi-domain awareness allows personnel to synchronize tasks more seamlessly and turn data into decisive action.  

Reprinted with permission from the Naval Postgraduate School's CRUSER News.

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