Magazine article National Defense

Navy to Send More Unmanned Systems to Sea

Magazine article National Defense

Navy to Send More Unmanned Systems to Sea

Article excerpt

The Navy is moving ahead with unmanned surface and undersea vehicle development, and pursuing enabling technologies that will make the platforms operationally effective.

A wide range of USVs and UUVs are in the works, littoral combat ship program executive officer Rear Adm. John Neagley said during a presentation at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

"Those capabilities will be delivered over the next couple years and start to get into our procurements in '18 and '19 and really start hitting the fleet," he said.

Neagley's portfolio includes the unmanned maritime systems program office, PMS 406.

"LCS was built from the ground up to really leverage and take advantage of unmanned systems," he said. "It's a modular ship ... [with] a lot of reconfigurable space." It has a built-in capability for launching and recovering UUVs and USVs, he noted.

Unmanned vessels can range in size from small man-portable devices to extra-large platforms that are more than 50 meters in length. They allow the U.S. military to take warfighters out of harm's way and perform certain missions more effectively and efficiently, he said.

Surface vehicles that are in the works include the unmanned influence sweep system minesweeper (UISS}; the mine countermeasures USV [MCM USV); and the Sea Hunter medium displacement UUV, an anti-submarine warfare continuous train unmanned vessel.

Operational evaluation of the UISS is slated for spring 2018, and Milestone C is expected in the fourth quarter of this fiscal year, according to Neagley.

Construction and payload integration for the MCM USV is underway with initial operator testing in fiscal year 2019.

The Sea Hunter recently transitioned from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to the Office of Naval Research, where development and testing will continue. The system could potentially transition to Navy operations this year, according to DARPA.

Undersea vehicles that are moving through the development pipeline include: the Knifefish for hunting bottom and buried mines; the Snakehead large displacement UUV for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and the Orca extra-large UUV for mine warfare.

The Knifefish has undergone sea acceptance trials, and Milestone C is slated for the third quarter of this fiscal year, according to Neagley.

Detailed design work on the Snakehead is in progress, and initial hull longlead raw material is on order.

Design contracts for the Orca have been awarded, and follow-production is scheduled for fiscal year 2019.

Capt. Jon Rucker, Navy program manager for unmanned maritime systems, said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson has inquired about the possibility of accelerating the acquisition of "the entire family" of UUVs.

However, the service isn't just looking for new unmanned platforms. They have limited value if they aren't equipped with support systems, such as energy sources, autonomy and precision navigation, command, control and communications, payloads and sensors, and platform integration, officials noted.

"You have to consider all those key enablers to really kind of get the most out of that technology," Neagley said.

Energy is critical for endurance, Rucker noted during a media briefing at the Surface Navy Association symposium in Arlington, Virginia.

In the near term, Rucker hopes to have lithium-ion batteries certified for platform integration. Officials are also in talks with the auto industry about fuel cells, he noted.

There are "more energy-dense technologies that aren't ready today but we're looking down the road so all the vehicles we design . you can take out the energy section and put in the new energy technology when it's ready," he said.

Autonomy and precision navigation technology are also essential.

UUVs are expected to deploy for an extended period of time in conditions where command, control and communications are more difficult than they are for surface vessels, said Lee Mastroianni, special projects officer at the Office of Naval Research. …

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