Magazine article National Defense

Are Autonomous Naval Vessels the Next Big Wave?

Magazine article National Defense

Are Autonomous Naval Vessels the Next Big Wave?

Article excerpt

JUST AS DRONES have proliferated in the skies, Navy and industry officials say unmanned systems also will take to the world's waterways in greater numbers.

"I think there's a lot of growth potential," Capt. Paul Ims, program manager of unmanned maritime systems, tells National Defense.

With a variety of unmanned platforms set to play a large role in the littoral combat ship fleet in the next several years, the sea service is working on a roadmap for unmanned surface vehicles. "The roadmap is really a vision document. It lays out the missions that the Navy intends to pursue in unmanned surface vehicles, and what are the capabilities, what are the technologies that we need to develop," Ims says. "We're looking at where we want to be in 2015, 2020 with this capability."

As the Navy is reducing the size of ship crews, it is using new technologies to enable an individual sailor to do more, says Ims. "That's one of the real promises of unmanned surface vehicles."

An example is mine warfare, which is one of the missions planned for the new littoral combat ship.

General Dynamics Robotic Systems in October was awarded a $12.7 million contract to build four unmanned surface vehicles for the LCS anti-submarine warfare mission module. The 11-meter vehicles will carry payloads of towed arrays, dipping sonar sensors and acoustic sources.

"We're on track to put unmanned vehicles on LCS," says Ims.

The Navy declined to elaborate on the specifics of the unmanned surface vehicle roadmap, but at a technology demonstration of an unmanned maritime vessel at the Washington Navy Yard, service representatives expressed interest in systems that would fit on the LCS, have robust non-lineof-sight communications and have advanced artificial intelligence capabilities.

Unmanned maritime vessels reguire a high level of artificial intelligence to conduct missions, says Ims.

"The awareness of where it is, and the ability to utilize sensors and either make the decision on board or go back to the manned platform and get a decision, that artificial intelligence, that autonomy - that's one of the challenges," says Ims. …

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