Friday, June 5, 2015

Lethal Autonomy in Autonomous Unmanned Vehicles

Guest post written for UUV Week by Sean Walsh.
Should robots sink ships with people on them in time of war? Will it be normatively acceptable and technically possible for robotic submarines to replace crewed submarines?
These debates are well-worn in the UAV space. Ron Arkin’s classic work Governing Lethal Behaviour in Autonomous Robots has generated considerable attention since it was published six years ago in 2009. The centre of his work is the “ethical governor” that would give normative approval to lethal decisions to engage enemy targets. He claims that International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and Rules of Engagement can be programmed into robots in machine readable language. He illustrates his work with a prototype that engages in several test cases. The drone does not bomb the Taliban because they are in a cemetery and targeting “cultural property” is forbidden. The drone selects an “alternative release point” (i.e. it waits for the tank to move a certain distance) and then it fires a Hellfire missile at its target because the target (a T-80 tank) was too close to civilian objects.
Could such an “ethical governor” be adapted to submarine conditions? One would think that the lethal targeting decisions a Predator UAV would have to make above the clutter of land would be far more difficult than the targeting decisions a UUV would have to make. The sea has far fewer civilian objects in it. Ships and submarines are relatively scarce compared to cars, houses, apartment blocks, schools, hospitals and indeed cemeteries. According to the IMO there are only about 100,000 merchant ships in the world. The number of warships is much smaller, a few thousand.
Diagram of the ethical governer
Diagram of the ‘ethical governor’
There seems to be less scope for major targeting errors with UUVs. Technology to recognize shipping targets is already installed in naval mines. At its simplest, developing a hunter-killer UUV would be a matter of putting the smarts of a mine programmed to react to distinctive acoustic signatures into a torpedo – which has already been done. If UUV were to operate at periscope depth, it is plausible that object recognition technology (Treiber, 2010) could be used as warships are large and distinctive objects. Discriminating between a prawn trawler and a patrol boat is far easier than discriminating human targets in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. There are no visual cues to distinguish between regular shepherds in Waziristan who have beards, wear robes, carry AK-47s, face Mecca to pray etc. and Taliban combatants who look exactly the same. Targeting has to be based on protracted observations of behaviour. Operations against a regular Navy in a conventional war on the high seas would not have such extreme discrimination challenges.
A key difference between the UUV and the UAV is the viability of telepiloting. Existing communications between submarines are restricted to VLF and ELF frequencies because of the properties of radio waves in salt water. These frequencies require large antenna and offer very low transmission rates so they cannot be used to transmit complex data such as video. VLF can support a few hundred bits per second. ELF is restricted to a few bits per minute (Baker, 2013). Thus at the present time remote operation of submarines is limited to the length of a cable. UAVs by contrast can be telepiloted via satellite links. Drones flying over Afghanistan can be piloted from Nevada.
For practical purposes this means the “in the loop” and “on the loop” variants of autonomy would only be viable for tethered UUVs. Untethered UUVs would have to run in “off the loop” mode. Were such systems to be tasked with functions such as selecting and engaging targets, they would need something like Arkin’s ethical governor to provide normative control.
DoD policy directive 3000.09 (Department of Defense, 2012) would apply to the development of any such system by the US Navy. It may be that a Protocol VI of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) emerges that may regulate or ban “off the loop” lethal autonomy in weapons systems. There are thus regulatory risks involved with projects to develop UUVs capable of offensive military actions.
Even so, in a world in which a small naval power such as Ecuador can knock up a working USV from commodity components for anti-piracy operations (, 2013), the main obstacle is not technical but in persuading military decision makers to trust the autonomous options. Trust of autonomous technology is a key issue. As Defense Science Board (2012) puts it:
A key challenge facing unmanned system developers is the move from a hardware-oriented, vehicle-centric development and acquisition process to one that addresses the primacy of software in creating autonomy. For commanders and operators in particular, these challenges can collectively be characterized as a lack of trust that the autonomous functions of a given system will operate as intended in all situations.
There is evidence that military commanders have been slow to embrace unmanned systems. Many will mutter sotto voce: to err is human but to really foul things up requires a computer. The US Air Force dragged their feet on drones and yet the fundamental advantages of unmanned aircraft over manned aircraft have turned out to be compelling in many applications. It is frequently said that the F-35 will be the last manned fighter the US builds. The USAF has published a roadmap detailing a path to “full autonomy” by 2049 (United States Air Force, 2009).
Similar advantages of unmanned systems apply to ships. Just as a UAV can be smaller than a regular plane, so a UUV can be smaller than a regular ship. This reduces requirements for engine size and elements of the aircraft that support human life at altitude or depth. UAVs do not need toilets, galleys, pressurized cabins and so on. In UUVs, there would be no need to generate oxygen for a crew and no need for sleeping quarters. Such savings would reduce operating costs and risks to the lives of crew. In war, as the Spanish captains said: victory goes to he who has the last escudo. Stress on reducing costs is endemic in military thinking and political leaders are highly averse to casualties coming home in flag-draped coffins. If UUVs can effectively deliver more military bang for less bucks and no risk to human crews, then they will be adopted in preference to crewed alternatives as the capabilities of vehicles controlled entirely by software are proven.
Such a trajectory is arguably as inevitable as that of Garry Kasparov vs Deep Blue. However in the shorter term, it is not likely that navies will give up on human crews. Rather UUVs will be employed as “force multipliers” to increase the capability of human crews and to reduce risks to humans. UUVs will have uncontroversial applications in mine counter measures and in intelligence and surveillance operations. They are more likely to be deployed as relatively short range weapons performing tasks that are non-lethal. Submarine launched USVs attached to their “mother” subs by tethers could provide video communications of the surface without the sub having to come to periscope depth. Such USVs could in turn launch small UAVs to enable the submarine to engage in reconnaissance from the air.  The Raytheon SOTHOC (Submarine Over the Horizon Organic Capabilities) launches a one-shot UAV from a launch platform ejected from the subs waste disposal lock . Indeed small UAVs such
AeroVironment Switchblade UUV
AeroVironment Switchblade UUV
as Switchblade could be weaponized with modest payloads and used to attack the bridges or rudders of enemy surface ships as well as to increase the range of the periscope beyond the horizon. Future aircraft carriers may well be submarine.
In such cases, the UUV, USV and UAV “accessories” to the human crewed submarine would increase capability and decrease risks. As humans would pilot such devices, there are no requirements for an “ethical governor” though such technology might be installed anyway to advise human operators and to take over in case the network link failed.
However, a top priority in naval warfare is the destruction or capture of the enemy. Many say that it is inevitable that robots will be tasked with this mission and that robots will be at the front line in future wars. The key factors will be cost, risk, reliability and capability. If military capability can be robotized and deliver the same functionality at similar or better reliability and at less cost and less risk than human alternatives, then in the absence of a policy prohibition, sooner or later it will be.
Sean Welsh is a Doctoral Candidate in Robot Ethics at the University of Canterbury. His professional experience includes  17 years working in software engineering for organizations such as British Telecom, Telstra Australia, Fitch Ratings, James Cook University and Lumata. The working title of Sean’s doctoral dissertation is “Moral Code: Programming the Ethical Robot.”


 Arkin, R. C. (2009). Governing Lethal Behaviour in Autonomous Robots. Boca Rouge: CRC Press.
Baker, B. (2013). Deep secret – secure submarine communication on a quantum level.   Retrieved 13th May, 2015, from
Defense Science Board. (2012). The Role of Autonomy in DoD Systems. from
Department of Defense. (2012). Directive 3000.09: Autonomy in Weapons Systems.   Retrieved 12th Feb, 2015, from (2015). Switchblade UAS.   Retrieved 28th May, 2015, from (2013). No hands on deck – arming unmanned surface vessels.   Retrieved 13th May, 2015, from
Treiber, M. (2010). An Introduction to Object Recognition: Selected Algorithms for a Wide Variety of Applications. London: Springer.
United States Air Force. (2009). Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047.   Retrieved 13th May, 2015, from
Reprinted with permission from the Center for International Maritime Security.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

UUVs as Stealthy Logistics Platforms

Guest post for UUV Week by Steve Weintz.
As potential adversaries sharpen their abilities to deny U.S. forces the freedom to maneuver, they concurrently constrain America's traditional strength in supporting expeditionary power. Sea-bases bring the logistical "tail" closer to the expeditionary "teeth," but they must stay outside the reach of A2/AD threats. Submarines remain the stealthiest military platform and will likely remain so for some time to come. In addition to their counter-force and counter-logistics roles, subs have seen limited service as stealth cargo vessels. History demonstrates both the advantages and limitations of submarines as transports. Submarine troop carriers, such as those used in SOF operations, are distinct from submarine freighters; the submarine's role in supply and sustainment is addressed here. Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) will revolutionize minesweeping, intelligence collection, and reconnaissance. But they may also finally deliver on the century-old promise of the submarine as a stealthy logistics platform.
Deutschland (Launched 1916)
Although early submarine pioneers like Simon Lake saw commercial advantage in subs’ ability to avoid storms and ice, submarines as cargo carriers were first used operationally to counter Britain's A2/AD strategy against Germany in World War I. The Deutschland and her sister boat Bremen were to be the first of a fleet of submarine blockade-runners whose cargo would sustain the German war effort. Despite her limited payload - only 700 tons - the privately-built Deutschland paid for herself and proved her design concept with her first voyage. But the loss of Bremen and America's turn against Germany scuttled the project.
Cargo subs were again employed in World War II. The "Yanagi" missions successfully transported strategic materials, key personnel, and advanced technology between Germany and Japan. The Japanese also built and used subs to resupply their island garrisons when Allied forces cut off surface traffic. Their efforts met with limited success - enough to continue subsequent missions but not enough to shift the outcome of the Allied strategy. The Soviet Union also used submarines to sustain forces inside denied areas at Sevastopol and elsewhere. These efforts inspired serious consideration of submarine transports that carried over well into the Cold War. Soviet designers produced detailed concepts for "submarine LSTs" capable of stealthily deploying armor, troops and even aircraft.
Dr. Dwight Messimer, an authority on the Deutschland, points out that cargo subs - with one notable exception - have never really surmounted two key challenges. They have limited capacity compared with surface transports, and their cost and complexity are far greater. If subs are made larger for greater capacity, they forfeit maneuverability, submergence speed, and stealth. If built in greater numbers their expense crowds out other necessary warship construction. The Deutschland and Japan's large transport subs handled poorly and were vulnerable to anti-submarine attacks. Many cargo subs were converted into attack subs to replace attack-sub losses.
The one notable exception to these difficulties is "cocaine subs" so frequently encountered by the US Coast Guard. These rudimentary stealth transports are simple and inexpensive enough to construct in austere anchorages, make little allowance for crew comfort, and have proven successful in penetrating denied US waters. The tremendous value of their cargoes means that only a few of these semi-subs need to run the blockade for their owners' strategy to succeed.
Logistical submarine designers could potentially overcome their two primary challenges by drawing inspiration from smugglers and from nature. UUVs, like other unmanned platforms, enjoy the advantages gained by dispensing with crew accommodations or life-support equipment. Large UUVs built and deployed in large numbers, like cocaine subs and pods of whales, could transport useful volumes of cargo in stealth across vast distances. MSubs' Mobile Anti-Submarine Training Target (MASTT), currently the largest UUV afloat, offers a glimpse at what such UUVs might look like. At 60 metric tons and 24 meters in length, MASTT is huge by UUV standards but very small compared to most manned subs.
3D printing technology is rapidly expanding, producing larger objects from tougher, more durable materials. Already, prototype systems can print multistory concrete structures and rocket engines made of advanced alloys. It will soon be possible to print large UUV hulls of requisite strength and size in large numbers. Indeed, printed sub and boat hulls were one of the first applications conceived for large-scale 3D printing. Their propulsion systems and guidance systems need not be extremely complex. Scaled-down diesel and air-independent propulsion systems, again mass-produced, should suffice to power such large UUVs. These long-endurance mini-subs would notionally be large enough to accommodate such power-plants.
10 large UUVs of 30 tons' payload each could autonomously deliver 300 tons of supplies to forward positions in denied areas. 300 tons, while not a great deal in comparison to the "iron mountain" of traditional American military logistics, is nevertheless as much as 5 un-stealthy LCM-8s can deliver.
A "pod" of such UUVs could sail submerged from San Diego, recharging at night on the surface, stop at Pearl Harbor for refueling and continue on their own to forward bases in the Western Pacific.
Their destinations could be sea-bases, SSNs and SSGNs, or special forces units inserted onto remote islands. Cargoes could include food, ammunition, batteries, spare parts, mission-critical equipment, and medical supplies. In all these cases, a need for stealthy logistics - the need to hide the "tail" - would call for sub replenishment versus traditional surface resupply. Depending on the mission, large UUVs could be configured to rendezvous with submerged subs, cache themselves on shallow bottoms, or run aground on beaches. Docking collars similar to those used on deep-submergence rescue vehicles could permit submerged dry transfer of cargo. UUVs could also serve as stealthy ship-to-shore connectors; inflatable lighters and boats could be used to unload surfaced UUVs at night.
When confronted with anti-submarine attacks a "pod" or convoy of such UUVs could submerge and scatter, increasing the likelihood of at least a portion of their cumulative payload arriving at its destination. Some large UUVs in such a "pod" could carry anti-air and anti-ship armament for defense in place of cargo, but such protection entails larger discussions about armed seaborne drones.
A submarine - even a manned nuclear submarine - is not the platform of choice if speed is essential. Airborne resupply can deliver cargoes much more quickly. But not all cargoes need arrive swiftly. The water may always be more opaque than the sky, and larger payloads can be floated than flown. It remains to be seen if large stealthy unmanned transport aircraft can be developed.
While these notions seem fanciful there is nothing about the technology or the concept beyond the current state of the art. Large numbers of unmanned mini-subs could overcome both the capacity and expense limitations that limited the cargo submarine concept in the past. The ability to stealthily supply naval expeditionary forces despite A2/AD opposition would be a powerful force multiplier.
Steve Weintz is a freelance journalist and screenwriter who has written for War is Boring, io9 and other publications.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for International Maritime Security.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Find, Fix, Identify, Engage: How Today's AUV Technology Can Compress the Mine Warfare Kill Chain

Guest post by Terry Miller, Capt, USN Retired and John Rapp.
A covert, in-mission, full kill chain, integrated, Mine Warfare Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) is described. It will significantly compress the kill chain beyond today’s overt detect to engage methods. It also eliminates or reduces costs associated with today’s multi-system approach. Over time, the MCM practice will inevitably evolve from overt to covert: this natural transition is discussed. The Navy asserts that time line improvements are urgently needed, but equally important is improved affordability. Cost savings for the integrated AUV are expected to be less than $5K per mine kill. The paper describes significant potential to reduce system costs using an integrated AUV solution instead of the multi-system approach of RMMV, AQS-20 and Archerfish. Such an AUV includes the vehicle itself, with its associated power and propulsion and maneuvering systems, autonomous embedded intelligence, navigation system, sonar and other sensor systems, and weapon payload.
For the AUV’s primary sensor, Thales has developed the advanced SAMDIS (Synthetic Aperture sonar (SAS) Mine Detection Imaging System) which has onboard processing to autonomously detect, classify and localize stealthy mine targets with a high probability of detection and low probability of false alarm. SAMDIS processing also autonomously adapts behavior during the mission. SAS survey mode has 1.0 inch by 1.2 inch resolution out to 150 m range and multi-aspect classification mode 1.5 inch by 2 inch resolution out to 120 m range. SAMDIS’ autonomy enables a weapon payload to be added to the AUV for single sortie mine detection and neutralization. SAMDIS was fielded in FY 2014 on a 27 inch diameter TRL-9 AUV. It is an open architecture and modular system with future growth potential to incorporate new features via spiral development and it is currently in production.
A second essential technology is autonomous sonar and video perception processing. This technology has been developed both by Naval Special Warfare Center, Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) and by Thales to Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6 and above. It is used on Autonomous Mine Disposal Vehicles (AMDV) such as Archerfish and K-Ster. This processing will be leveraged in the fire control module for a Hunter-Killer AUV to deliver a weapon or place an explosive charge.

Archerfish Mine Neutralization System
Archerfish Mine Neutralization System

A suitable weapon technology is a light-weight composite 30 mm launcher that would implant a round filled with either high explosives (HE) (for an explosive hard-kill) or reactive material (for a soft kill burn). Similar technology was developed by DTRA to counter roadside IEDs using .50 cal weapons. A 30 mm implant would be usefully larger and could integrate a 1316 compliant fusing device. Utilizing an EFI detonator enables digital fusing and affords either timed or controlled detonation, including detonation by an acoustically transmitted command. All these launch sensing, switch and fusing capabilities are currently “in-use” in penetrating darts that are already at TRL 6 and above. The launcher would weigh between 13 and 20 pounds. Its barrel could be constructed using a metal liner with composite over wrap to provide strength and rigidity while minimizing weight. To simplify the launcher and minimize weight a cartridge-less round using an electronic primer for its firing mechanism would be used. The launcher muzzle could be sealed with a frangible material that would allow it to operate at water depths exceeding 100m while allowing the projectile to be launched with minimal resistance. This launcher would be the only technology below TRL 6. However, three separate organizations 1) Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Newport 20 mm water to water gun for torpedo defense, 2) DSG Technologies ( and 3) AAC have matured in-water technology that operates stably using super-cavitation. A 30mm launcher provides sufficient terminal velocity to penetrate .5 inch cold rolled steel from a range of 30 feet. The key capability to penetrate and anchor a time delayed detonation device without setting off the target was demonstrated in 2014 by AAC and EMPI.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 10.33.10 AM
Underwater Motion of Cavitating Core (Multipurpose Projectile) in Formed Cavity

Water, due to its density, has a profound impact upon the terminal velocity of the implant at the target; a large change in terminal velocity only needs a slight change in range. The currently achieved standoff range of 30 feet is not sufficient to ensure safety of the AUV should the shot detonate the mine. Shooting from longer ranges requires significant basic research and development, both in material strengths and in achieving precise sonar fire-control accuracies before truly safe standoff ranges are achievable. Both DSG and AAC have repeating fire 30 mm launcher concepts with a multi-kill per sortie capability. The figure illustrates the DSG 30 mm projectile.
The AUV communicates with the surface ship through radio and acoustic links for low volume tactical data; the detailed high volume sonar and navigation data are recorded onboard and downloaded post mission.
The concept of covertly mine clearing is to automatically reacquire the target, re-detect mine-like echoes in the area, and then approach using the best echoes. At a short range, the object is identified autonomously by the sonar and video perception processing; then if it is a mine, the AUV works through the risks and best approaches so as not to jeopardize the mission with any single mine kill , and would only then arm a weapon, place a charge, or fire a neutralization device. The neutralization device could provide delayed detonation if needed. The autonomy is most effective when the AUV engages multiple targets in a mission. This type of autonomy is achievable today.
An intermediate concept of operation would transition today’s overt practices into the covertly operating concept just described. In the near-term, the autonomous fire-control will send one compressed image wirelessly; that is used by an operator to assess and then commit to the target; then the operator would issue the wireless command to gate open the final arming stages that progress all the autonomous fires upon the target. The image payload is constrained by the limited bandwidth of such a wireless link. That means the autonomy must maneuver to make the best identifying image to compress and send. Methods for transmitting a still snapshot picture via an acoustic modem are already being practiced. For example, Thales has demonstrated this capability for the VAMA program in Europe.
An in-mission full kill chain integrated AUV would dramatically compress the kill chain from traditional Navy detect to engage approaches. It will also eliminate and reduce costs compared to their multi-system approach. Over time, the MCM practice will transition from overt to covert. The time line savings still need to be modeled and validated, but early estimates calculate 3000% improvement, or several orders of magnitude savings in operational time lines. Cost savings are similar because the mine kill per engagement with a 30 mm device are estimated to be less than $5K per mine kill. The reduction in system cost is potentially huge by scaling to one system that replaces the multi-system of RMMV, AQS-20 and MH-60S Archerfish neutralization placement.

About the Authors

Terry Miller, Capt, USN Retired – Career Special Operations Diver with over 24 years in Mine Warfare, working for Advanced Acoustic Concepts (AAC) a joint venture company owned by DRS Technologies and Thales. He is a veteran of Desert Storm, USS Tripoli and USS Princeton mine strikes and conducted the first influence sweep in combat since the Korean War onboard USS Leader MSO 490. Terry has over 4000 hours of sonar contact time and ROV operations in combat, in training, and in simulated training against various mine shapes. He served on the Avenger MCM class as Division Officer, Executive Officer and Commanding Officer. He was the OPNAV Branch Head for Mine Warfare and ASN/RDA Acquisition Coordinator to JIDDO for Counter IED.
John Rapp – Systems engineer with 35 years experience in the defense industry, working for AAC as Director of Advanced Systems. He is a multi-disciplined inventor with 36 US patents awarded; one-third regard underwater weapons.
Reprinted with permission from the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Ghost Fleet & Future Unmanned Naval Warfare

Well known authors and national security analysts Peter W. Singer and August Cole have together launched their inaugural novel, Ghost Fleet. The book contains all the components one would expect from a high tech future-war thriller: major power conflict, cyber militias, and biotech-enhanced warriors, to name a few highlights. And drones...lots of them.  Unmanned naval systems in particular, play key roles throughout the book's action sequences. Some of the unmanned systems are already deployed, some are currently in development, and a few exist only in the authors' minds, but all appear to be technically feasible at some point in the near future.

A Littoral Combat Ship features prominently early in the plot. The LCS serves as a mothership for the Fire Scout UAVs and a REMUS AUV which the crew creatively uses as an offensive weapon. An embarked SAFFiR robot helps LCS sailors with damage control during a combat scene.

Several platforms in use today are adapted for new missions by the book's various combatants. A Wave Glider serves as a clandestine delivery vehicle, while a commercial Versatrax 300 sewer survey robot becomes an improvised subterranean explosive device. A Sea Avenger is cleverly transformed into a communications relay to maintain an afloat task force's communications security.

As to future vehicles, the Remora is a surveillance UUV dropped by a Navy P-8 aircraft.  Three autonomous armed submarine hunting surface vessels interestingly designated as USS Mako, USS Bullshark, and USS Tigershark resemble the trimaran ACTUV "Sea Hunter" prototype in development with today's US Navy.  Finally, versatile amphibious robotic lobster affectionately named Butter is used by Navy SEALs to wreak havoc on the enemy.

The book's antagonist regime, known as the Directorate, also operates some uniquely devastating systems.  The Pigeon is a small, vertically launched surveillance and jamming drone. The electric V1000 UAV is based on commercial quadrotors, and capable of firing both air to ground micro-rockets and supersonic air-to-air missiles.

Clearly, the author's have thoroughly researched the book's technology and have been kind enough to include an extensive list of links and references in the endnotes. Unmanned systems enthusiasts may want to buy Ghost Fleet just to survey the interesting range of drones, but they'll read it for the compelling storyline.