Category Archives: Future Tech

What is coming down the pipe in naval and maritime technology?

Why We Will Never See Fully Autonomous Commercial Ships

By Commander David Dubay, USCG

The world will never see fully autonomous transoceanic commercial cargo ships. In fact, autonomous vessels are likely to operate in only very limited situations. In recent years, the prospect of fully autonomous vessels has become a hot topic for commercial shipping. The same fast-paced advances in technology that have led to projects to automate vehicles in every other sector of the transportation industry have also found their way to the shipping industry. Advances in camera technology, sensors, electromechanical actuators, and satellite technology appear to promise a world in which ships will soon traverse the oceans without a human on board. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Comité Maritime International (CMI) are already exploring how autonomous vessels would fit into the existing framework of international maritime law.

Yet, while it is laudable to plan for the future, autonomous vessels operated by computers and remote operators quite simply pose too many vulnerabilities and they likely will prove too expensive to replace today’s manned vessels. The professional merchant mariners who operate ships today are the crucial on-scene decision makers, repairmen, and physical security providers who make commercial shipping secure, efficient, and inexpensive. Once we get past the promises and hyperbole, the risk of collisions, legal liabilities, and environmental calamity will ensure that some critical number of humans will persist onboard ships. Advances in technology will continue to make shipping safer and more efficient, but they will not eventually replace the human masters and crews that serve on today’s commercial vessels.

Despite all the excitement, the benefits of autonomous ships are still very much up for debate. For shipping companies, a switch to autonomous vessels promises cost savings from not having to pay for a master and crew, and perhaps from increased safety. But scores of new operators and technicians would be required to make a system of autonomous vessels work. The equipment to automate a ship will be extremely expensive and would introduce many new potential points of failure into commercial shipping. Autonomous vessels may reduce the number of accidents caused by human negligence, however, the relative safety of autonomous vessels versus manned vessels is pure speculation at this point. Autonomous ships could potentially be more efficient if the space for the crew could be dedicated to additional cargo. But ships will still likely need to have systems and controls in place to allow them to be operated with human master and crew when there are system failures. Autonomous vessels may result in better working conditions overall in the shipping industry as they would eliminate the need to find workers to fill the many difficult and hazardous jobs at sea. But the elimination of merchant mariner jobs would be a tremendous financial blow to those workers in those jobs today.

Recent articles have proclaimed that autonomous vessels are here or just on the horizon and seem to take the adoption of autonomous vessels as a certainty. At an initial glance, the future of autonomous vessels appears very promising. For small vessels the technology that is needed to automate a vessel is here today and is available enough that even a hobbyist can build an autonomous vessel. In 2017, SEA CHARGER, a small solar powered and unmanned home-built boat successfully completed a trip from California to Hawaii using GPS and a satellite modem for guidance and connectivity. And companies in the shipping industry are already using technologies that could eventually be used to automate larger vessels. The newest vessel of the the Red and White Fleet, a San Francisco charter boat company, is a hybrid diesel electric with a 160 kilowatt lithium ion battery pack that provides enough power for the ship to do a one-hour Golden Gate cruise on battery power alone.

One present obstacle for automating larger vessels is battery technology. At the outset, today’s batteries simply do not have the energy density necessary to power larger commercial vessels. Higher capacity and more powerful electric batteries that are powerful enough to move larger ships will likely be developed in the future. However, current battery technology has limitations. Lithium ion batteries, the type used for automated vehicles and aircraft, can explode if overcharged and further, large lithium ion batteries need to be temperature controlled to work properly.

Even more challenging obstacles to the success of autonomous vessels will be the expense and complexity of designing such systems. The technical challenge of operating a large cargo ship autonomously on the open oceans for days or weeks at a time will require a command and control system that does not exist today and may be impractical to build. Seamanship and navigating a ship safely is a challenge with a full complement of crew members on board. Automated ships will require command centers, computers, advanced satellite communications systems, other electronic devices, remote operators, and other technicians. Autonomous vessels would save money by not having a crew, but shipping companies will in many cases be simply replacing merchant mariners with other workers, most likely more expensive technical workers, who will work in offices on land or will be on call to assist autonomous ships across the oceans. Shipping companies will likely need multiple redundant command centers to provide the robust level of connectivity required for the safe and secure operation of these ships.

All of this advanced technology will be very expensive and much of the expense will be the cost of designing and operating a system capable of providing the propulsion, navigation controls, and stopping power necessary to operate a ship continuously in the harsh ocean environment. Weather, wind, waves, fog, obstructions, marine mammals, salt water, weather, birds, other ships, sounds, and almost anything else imaginable is encountered out on the open ocean. An autonomous ship will require incredibly complex technology to withstand the chaos of the ocean environment and enable a ship to respond remotely to any incident or emergency. It is still an open question whether today’s controls and communications technologies are sufficiently robust and capable so as to be relied on for commercial shipping in place of a human crew.

The most serious concern regarding autonomous vessels is the one that will very likely keep them from ever being employed: the risk of exploitation by adversaries, hackers, terrorists, criminals, and other malign actors. Autonomous vessels’ dependence on the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace infrastructure coupled with the lack of any human on-scene responders will provide an opportunity for others to interfere with these ships and potentially use them as weapons or for profit. The challenge for system designers is that the characteristics or features that make an automated system feasible for commercial application, such as standardization, continuous communications, and periodic updates, also provide exploitable opportunities for bad actors. Autonomous commercial cargo vessels would provide too easy a target of opportunity for theft, misuse, interference, or worse.

Conclusion

Some reality must be injected into the debate over autonomous ships. It is a truism that electronic and mechanical systems will eventually fail. For vital applications where human lives are at risk such as for aircraft, system engineers design in wide tolerances, safeguards, and multiple levels of redundancy to ensure an adequate margin of safety. The challenge in designing autonomous vessels is building both a safe and secure system that will function effectively in all ocean and maritime conditions without human beings on board and one that is not capable of being exploited by bad actors. Such a system, even if possible to build, would likely be too expensive for companies to build and operate compared to human crew. As a result, autonomous vessels are extremely unlikely to displace the human network of maritime professionals that have always made the maritime transportation system safe and secure.

Commander David Dubay is a Military Professor of International Law and Associate Director for the Law of Maritime Operations, Stockton Center for International Law, U.S. Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. The views presented are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, or the U.S. Naval War College.

Featured Image: HMM Dream (Wikimedia Commons)

Navy Culture Must Be Adapted to Fit the Information Age

By Lieutenant Commander Travis D. Howard, USN

A recent independent review of the Navy’s cybersecurity posture, completed in March 2019, was predictably harsh on our Navy’s current culture, people, structure, processes, and resourcing to address cybersecurity.1 For many of us within the Information Warfare discipline, much of this report does not come as a shock, but it does lay bare our cultural, structural, and procedural problems that the Navy has been struggling with since the turn of the century.

The 76th Secretary of the Navy, Richard V. Spencer, should be applauded for enabling open and honest dialogue on the key issues of this report by releasing it for public comment and professional discourse. The review found that the Navy was not “optimally focused, organized, [nor] resourced” for cyberwar.2 Such transparency has been the hallmark of the naval service for centuries, and is largely the reason why such robust professional forums such as the United States Naval Institute (USNI) and the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) continue to thrive.

The report was particularly critical of the Navy’s culture, stating that the Navy is “preparing to win some future kinetic battle, while it is losing the current global, counter-force, counter-value, cyberwar.”3 The report goes on to recommend that the highest levels of Navy leadership adjust the service’s cultural landscape to become more information-centric, rather than platform-centric. This excerpt is particularly vexing:

“Navies must become information enterprises who happen to operate on, over, under, and from the sea; a vast difference from a 355 ship mindset.”4

In truth, the Navy that acts as an information enterprise and the Navy that pursues the tenants of traditional naval warfare as laid out by naval doctrine are not mutually exclusive. Our drive toward a bigger, better, and more ready Navy, aligned to the National Defense Strategy, requires a naval culture ready for high-end conflict but active and engaged in all levels of conflict below lethal combat. The adoption of information enterprise core principles certainly has a place in our doctrine; in fact, it’s already there but lacks proper execution and widespread cultural adoption as a core competency across all warfare communities. Navy culture can be adapted to better fit the information age, but it will take the entire Navy to do it and not just a single community of effort.

Information is Already in our Doctrine, but Prioritization Must Improve

The 31st Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral John Richardson, released a Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority shortly after assuming his role, and recently released an update (Design 2.0) to compliment the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The CNO put information warfare at the center of his strategic thinking, and challenged the Navy’s operational and resourcing arms to “adapt to this reality and respond with urgency.”5 But this change in the security environment wasn’t new to this CNO, in fact, it was foreseen decades ago by thinkers like CAPT (ret.) Wayne P. Hughes, a venerated naval tactician and professor emeritus at the Graduate School of Operations and Information Sciences of the Naval Postgraduate School. Early versions of Hughes’ Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, required reading in graduate-level naval officer training, placed information, rapid adoption of technology, and intelligence at the forefront of effective maritime operations in the modern age.6

If we’ve valued information in warfighting all along, then why are we failing to adapt our naval culture to the Information Age? The Cybersecurity Readiness Review cuts straight to the point: “… cybersecurity continues to be seen largely as an ‘IT issue’ or ‘someone else’s problem.’”7 In our haste to stand up a community of practice to do all the cyber things we, as a Navy, failed to make the necessary cultural changes that should have accompanied it.

Why hasn’t the growth of the Information Warfare Community focused the Navy’s culture appropriately? After all, creating such specialized warfare communities has always worked well in the past, as any aviator can attest to. Truthfully, the problem is bigger than just one community; the subsequent decades saw the rise of global information technology as central to nearly everything we do, and every Sailor now uses the network as a primary on-the-job resource. The loss of email, web browsing, and support systems that handle tasks from personnel to logistics can and does result in work stoppage; any assertions to the contrary, that workarounds or manual methods still exist, do not accept the reality of the situation.

Cultural change is long overdue, and just like a Marine or Soldier learns how to handle their weapon safely and effectively from day one, we must now train and mentor our Sailors to use the network in the same vein. No more can we flippantly say “we have people for that” when faced with information management and cybersecurity problems, putting effort into modernizing complex systems and enhancing Information Warfare’s lethality, while ignoring the power a single negligent user could wield to bring it all down. It’s all hands on deck now, or the Navy faces the very real possibility of fumbling the opening stages of the next kinetic fight.

Security is Already an Inherent Part of Navy Culture

The good news is that information security is already an intrinsic part of being a member of the armed forces, uniformed or civil service. Security clearances, safe handling procedures for classified information, and cryptography practices like two-person integrity have been trained into the workforce for decades. Protecting information is as much a part of our culture as operating weapons systems or driving warships.

The Navy’s training machine should find ways to leverage this existing culture of compliance to incorporate dynamic and repetitive ways to reach all Sailors at all stages of development – from boot camp to C school, from initial officer training to graduate school, focused on making each Sailor a harder target for information exploitation. Each engagement should be tailored to fit the environment and to complement subject matter: initial user training should teach how to report spear-phishing, practice OPSEC on social media (and how to spot adversarial attempts to collect against them), and recognizing unusual activity on a network workstation. A more senior Sailor in C-school might learn how to look at cybersecurity from a supervisory perspective, managing a work center and a group of network assets, and how to spot and report insider threats both malicious and negligent. An officer in a naval graduate program, such as at NPS or the Naval War College, would take advanced threat briefings on adversarial activity targeting rank-and-file users on the network, and how to incorporate such threat information into wargaming to inform the strategic and operational levels of war.

Some of these actions are already in the works, but the emphasis should be on how to engage Sailors in multi-faceted, multi-media ways, and repetition is critical. Seeing the same concept in different ways, in different case studies, reinforces better behavior. The Navy is no stranger to this training method: we are masters at repetitive drills to train crews to accomplish complex actions in combat. Reinforcement of this behavior cannot come fast enough. Incidents attributed to negligent network users are on the rise, and cost organizations millions of dollars a year.8 The Navy is no exception: category-4 incidents (improper usage) are too common.

Ultimately, the objective should be a Sailor who understands cyber hygiene and proper use of the network as a primary on-the-job tool, just as well as any Soldier or Marine knows his or her rifle. Sailors go to sea aboard complex warships with integrated networked systems that run everything from Hull, Mechanical, and Electrical (HM&E) systems to combat systems and weapons employment. The computer is our rifle, why shouldn’t we learn how to use it more safely and effectively?

Keys to Success

Cultural change is hard, but lessons learned from our past, best practices from the private sector, and good old fashioned invasive leadership (the kind the Navy does very well) can adjust the ship’s rudder and speed before we find ourselves much further in shoal water.

Top level leadership must set the conditions for success, but they have to believe in it themselves. Our Sailors can easily tell when a leader doesn’t fully commit to action, paying lip service but nothing beyond it. They are also hungry to follow a leader who has a passion for what they do. To effect change, passionate leaders need to take center stage with the authority and resources necessary to translate change into action at the deckplate level. When a Sailor sees a top-level message about a desired change, then sees that change actually happening in their workspace, it becomes real for them. Let’s also trust them to understand the threats, rather than keeping the “scary” threat briefs at the senior levels.

Successes must be celebrated, but failures must have real consequences. It’s time to get serious about stopping insider threats, specifically negligent insiders. Too often the conversation about insider threats goes to the criminal and malicious insiders, ignoring the most common root of user-based attack vectors. Our Sailors must be better informed through regular threat briefings, training on how to spot abnormal activity on the network, and clear, standardized reporting procedures when faced with phishing and other types of user-targeted attacks. Those who report suspicious activity resulting in corrective action should be rewarded. Likewise, those who blatantly ignore established cyber hygiene practices and procedures must face real consequences on a scale similar to cryptographic incidents or unattended secure spaces. This will be painful, but necessary to set our user culture right.

Effective training begets cultural change. We must take advantage of new and innovative training methods to enrich our schoolhouses with multimedia experiences that will reshape the force and resonate with our new generation of Sailors. The annual Cybersecurity Challenge should be retired, its effectiveness has been questionable at best, and replaced with the same level of rigor that we used to attack no-fail topics like sexual assault prevention. With the stand-up of a Director of Warfighting Development (N7), and the lines of effort within the CNO’s Design 2.0 rife with high-velocity learning concepts, the near-future landscape to make this sea change looks promising.9

Conclusion

The Navy has spent the better part of 30 years struggling to adopt an information-centric mindset, and the good news is that operational forces have come a long way in embracing the importance of information in warfare, and how it permeates all other warfare areas. Yet our culture still has a long way to go to break the now dangerously misguided notion that information management and cybersecurity are something that “we have people for” and doesn’t concern every non-IW Sailor. The IW Community has come a long way and can do a lot to further the Navy’s lethality in space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum, but it can’t fix an entire Navy’s cultural resistance to change without strong assistance.

Secretary Spencer, in his letter introducing the public release of the 2019 Cybersecurity Readiness Review, noted that “the report highlights the value of data and the need to modify our business and data hygiene processes in order to protect data as a resource.”10 He highlighted that cross-functional groups were already underway to address the findings in the report, and surely the machinations of the Navy Headquarters are more than capable of making the necessary changes to the Navy’s “policy, processes, and resources needed to enhance cyber defense and increase resiliency.”11 But culture, that’s all of us, and we must be biased toward change and improvement. We are the generation of naval professionals who must adapt to this reality and respond with urgency.

Lieutenant Commander Howard is an Information Warfare Officer, information professional, assigned to the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington DC. A prior enlisted IT and Surface Warfare Officer, his last operational assignment was as the Combat Systems Information Officer aboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2) in San Diego, CA.

References

[1] The Hon. Michael J. Bayer, Mr. John M. B. O’Connor, Mr. Ronald S. Moultrie, Mr. William H. Swanson. Secretary of the Navy Cybersecurity Readiness Review (CSRR), March 2019. https://www.navy.mil/strategic/CyberSecurityReview.pdf

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Chief of Naval Operations, December 2018. Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 2.0. https://www.navy.mil/navydata/people/cno/Richardson/Resource/Design_2.0.pdf. p. 3

[6] Wayne P. Hughes, 2000. Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.

[7] Bayer, et al., CSRR 2019, p. 12

[8] Security Magazine, Apr 24, 2019. “What’s the Average Cost of an Insider Threat?” https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180424005342/en/Research-Ponemon-Institute-ObserveITReveals-Insider-Threat

[9] CNO, Design 2.0, p. 13

[10] Secretary of the Navy, 12 Mar 2019. Letter accompanying public release of the CSRR 2019. https://www.navy.mil/strategic/SECNAVCybersecurityLetter.pdf.

[11] Ibid.

Featured Image: U.S. 7TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (Oct. 16, 2015) Operations Specialist 1st Class Keith Tatum, from Americus, Georgia, stands watch in the Combat Information Center (CIC) aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) during an air-defense exercise as a part of the joint exercise Malabar 2015. Malabar is a continuing series of complex, high-end warfighting exercises conducted to advance multi-national maritime relationships and mutual security. Normandy is deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations as part of a worldwide deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Justin R. DiNiro/Released)

Unmanned Systems Week Wraps up on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

Last week CIMSEC published articles submitted in response to our call for articles released in partnership with the Navy’s Unmanned Maritime Systems program office. Authors discussed how to experiment with unmanned systems, how unmanned systems can contribute to amphibious assaults and fleet air defense, among other operational and developmental questions. We thank the authors for their excellent contributions. 

Create an Unmanned Experimental Squadron and Learning System” by Dustin League and LCDR Daniel Justice

“…we propose that the Navy revisit history and revitalize the complex learning system it used to exploit an earlier set of new capabilities prior to World War II. Specifically, we call for the Navy to accelerating standing up a dedicated experimental squadron with the purpose of exploring advanced tactics for employing unmanned systems in a series of tactically challenging, objective-based exercises.”

Unmanned Units Need Tenders for Distributed Operations” by Griffin Cannon

“Looking to the past, the precedent of the Pacific War, in which fleet tenders provided engineering support to a mobile fleet, suggests a path forward. Basing a support and sustainment model for Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) on 21st century tenders would both fulfill the unique support needs of USVs and help build the ability to fight and deter a war in the Pacific.”

Autonomous Pickets for Force Protection and Fleet Missile Defense” by 1st Lt. Walker D. Mills

“In all cases, the ability to form a protective perimeter of unmanned systems beyond the edge of the fleet would significantly boost survivability and increase options for the fleet commander by lowering risk. A flotilla of autonomous pickets, armed with effective CIWS and multi-spectrum missile countermeasures, can function as a powerful yet affordable force multiplier. Such a force would provide the Navy with an increased ability to operate and project power inside an anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) network and help the fleet weather storms of missile salvos. “

Accelerating the Renaissance of the U.S. Navy’s Amphibious Assault Forces” by George Galdorisi

“The ship-to-shore movement of an expeditionary assault force was—and remains—the most hazardous mission for any navy.  The value of real-time ISR and IPB is difficult to overstate. It is this ability to sense the battlespace in real time that will spell the difference between victory and defeat. For this reason, it seems clear that the types of unmanned systems the Department of the Navy should acquire are those systems that directly support naval expeditionary forces that conduct forcible entry operations. “

Providing Secure Logistics for Amphibious Assault with Unmanned Surface Vehicles” by Neil Zerbe

“…the Navy would be better served by embracing the always successful “crawl, walk, run,” method and use commercial off-the-shelf technology to evolve an already proven logistics capability before committing to ambitious plans with unmanned surface ships that aren’t yet on the drawing boards. Far from distracting Navy officials from these more lofty ideas for using unmanned systems, demonstrating this capability in Navy-Marine Corps exercises would likely accelerate the Navy’s embrace of unmanned systems.”

The Case for Unmanned Surface Vehicles in Future Maritime Operations” by Wayne Prender

“While it is encouraging to see Navy plans to move quickly to bring initial Medium and Large USVs into the fleet, other unmanned platforms are equally ready for such an approach. Innovation is the key to shaping tomorrow’s Navy, and getting USVs of all shapes and sizes to the fleet for Sailors to try out is the best approach to achieving it.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: PEARL HARBOR (Nov. 2, 2018) The medium displacement unmanned surface vehicle (MDUSV) prototype Sea Hunter is moored onboard Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Sea Hunter’s arrival in Hawaii demonstrates that MDUSVs are capable of deployed blue-water operations, enabling a new class of naval system. Highly autonomous USVs like Sea Hunter are creating a new paradigm for Navy surface forces, as they are capable of carrying a variety of payloads and performing many missions, including independent operations from manned Navy ships. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird/Released)

The Case for Unmanned Surface Vehicles in Future Maritime Operations

Unmanned Maritime Systems Topic Week

By Wayne Prender

As U.S. naval forces further develop and implement distributed maritime operations concepts to address great power competition with Russia and China, more ships spread across wider distances will be required. This, in turn, will lead to a changing fleet composition with larger numbers of small ships and vessels of all types, as well as provide the additional required logistical support over expanded distances. Far greater participation of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) of all types will be needed as a part of this new construct due to budgetary necessity and operational imperative.

While new unmanned ships, such as those planned under the Medium USV and Large USV programs, are expected to be fielded in the dozens, smaller unmanned vessels and craft numbering in the hundreds can play vital complimentary rolls. Already, the Navy has USV programs underway that will help remove humans from dangerous operational environments, such as minefields. Additionally, concepts are under development for similar platforms to extend the fleet’s reach through a range of networked sensors and weapons.

The quickest, best value, and lowest risk path forward to developing long-term solutions for new missions is to adapt existing, proven, and already paid-for unmanned vehicle designs by swapping out their mission-specific equipment. The idea is to use a common unmanned vessel that can easily and quickly incorporate a variety of payloads for diverse mission sets, or haul people and material in the payload bay area.

In the case of the Textron Systems’ Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV), which was selected under competition as the platform for the Navy’s Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) program, payloads are rapidly interchangeable. Much like a standard International Standards Organization (ISO) shipping container that can be quickly moved via crane onto and off of a tractor trailer, the CUSV uses ISO locks and standard electrical interfaces so that payloads can be changed rapidly, allowing mission flexibility. Unmanned craft such as the CUSV, which offer large amounts of electrical power as well as 5,000 pounds of payload capacity, can serve as the basic “trucks” for carrying a wide variety of potential mission packages that are tailored for specific tasks.

New Missions: Endless Possibilities

To date, naval plans for such USVs have been limited to the mine-countermeasures (MCM) mission areas, with the UISS initially intended for mine-sweeping. With that program being subsumed into the MCM USV program, mine-hunting payload options are being added and mine-neutralization equipment is being envisioned, which would facilitate the entire detect-to-engage process in a single MCM sortie.

While taking the man out of the naval minefield was a natural first mission to address, U.S. naval forces have only begun to scratch the surface of what USVs of all sizes can accomplish. In 2017, Textron Systems and the Naval Surface Warfare Center-Dahlgren established a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), which allows for the exploration of advanced missions, concepts, and capabilities. Initial explorations have evaluated different payloads for a Surface and Expeditionary Warfare Mission Module that could counter fast-attack craft and swarming boats, as well as provide armed escort. Payloads, such as an integrated remote weapon station (RWS) armed with .50 caliber machine gun, have already shown during mock intercepts that the craft can identify, lock, and maintain a fix on a moving target. Integration of a Hellfire missile is planned, and other lethal payloads such a 30mm cannon, low-cost loitering munition, or even larger systems like the Naval Strike Missile, could be considered.

Such capabilities would allow the USV to support a wide array of missions. For example, a USV carrying a mix of armament, such as .50 cal RWS, combined with non-lethal capabilities would give operators a range of engagement escalation options during the conduct of harbor patrol, port security, or counter-piracy escort duties. For more stressing force protection, armed interdiction and escort missions, those payloads could be exchanged for a launcher carrying Hellfire missile or other armaments.

The craft does not need to carry a mission package to be useful. Its empty payload areas can haul cargo for resupply and logistics – a capability that will be in greater demand as part of distributed operations. Similarly, a USV in “cargo configuration” could be of significant utility during humanitarian operations, delivering supplies to needy areas, and evacuation of people under duress.

With significant excess onboard power and substantial available space and weight, such USVs could also be equipped to conduct electronic warfare; pull an anti-submarine warfare sensor array; host intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors; or carry a communications relay payload. This is just the beginning of exploring the art of the possible. The best way to quickly determine the most promising technologies and concepts is to get a number of the craft into the water for experimentation. 

Not Just for Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) 

Consideration needs to be given regarding how a CUSV-sized craft can support a variety of new roles and missions. Although the MCM USV program envisions the craft as being initially operated from the LCS, recent demonstrations have shown such USVs are not limited to just that class. In fact, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship Mounts Bay successfully operated the CUSV during a recent naval experiment. The USV can also been deployed off the shore, as well as from additional platforms which have a crane or wet dock. For example, the CUSV has demonstrated this concept operating off the Expeditionary Transfer Dock USNS John Glenn. 

While a forward operating base or mothership is needed for the craft of this size to be forward deployed, several options are worth considering. Depending on the specific mission profile, such craft typically operate for approximately eight-hour sorties between refueling. Additionally, refueling does not need to be provided by specific manned ships, but could instead come from a wider variety of places. Imagine, for example, a future destroyer escorted by 10 to 20 armed USVs operating as part of a distributed operating concept. Each of those USVs could, in turn, be a mothership for additional smaller unmanned craft (unmanned aerial systems, unmanned underwater systems and USVs), that are netted together to create a truly layered defense. These smaller craft, if autonomously refueled, including by the larger medium and large USVs, could potentially stay on station for days, weeks, or even months without needing to return to port.

Ready Technology: Powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) 

The basic building blocks of AI technology that will enable such operations already exist. USVs have demonstrated during naval experimentation that they are fully capable of autonomous navigation and seakeeping operations, collision avoidance, and International Regulations for Preventing Collision at Sea (COLREGs) compliance, and that evolution continues. At the upcoming Advanced Naval Technology Experiment (ANTX) at Camp Lejeune this summer, the CUSV will be put through its paces to demonstrate that these craft possess operational maturity in their ability for autonomous basic operations, as well as advanced concepts such the hand-off of control of the craft to another platform to test manned-unmanned teaming concepts.

Improvements and evolution of AI technology will add capabilities to these craft in many areas. It will help increase the level of autonomy in the craft such that it can be operated without need for human intervention in its basic movements and navigation. This will, in turn, reduce the operational burden on a craft operator and could lead to additional manpower reductions. While most missions will require one person to operate the vessel and another operator for the payload, decision tools enabled by AI could make a single operator feasible.

Consider, for example, how commercial companies like Waymo plan to use a controller to oversee a fleet of road vehicles. Future control technologies could also enable one operator to control multiple craft simultaneously, allowing their teammates to focus on the payload sensor or weapons. These control technologies do not have to be restricted to USVs. Textron Systems’ Synturian family of multi-domain control and collaboration technologies can control craft such as CUSV, as well as various unmanned aircraft systems, raising the possibility of seamless control for a multitude of different systems.

Advances in AI will also be vital in providing USVs with self-diagnostic technologies for predictive maintenance. Combined with increase component reliability, these technologies will enable craft to go longer between maintenance periods while more predictably knowing when that maintenance is needed. Such logistical schemes, in additional to autonomous refueling, are a key to the future ability of USVs to stay on station for longer durations.

Ramp Up Experimentation

Technological advances, fiscal pressures, and rising peer competitor capabilities suggest that the Navy must adapt its core warfighting strategies and concepts, and a changing fleet composition to one that uses unmanned platforms of all types and sizes to a greater degree. For all the excitement that USVs and the attenuate technologies bring, the details of how best to leverage those vessels are still in their infancy. Experience has repeatedly shown that the best way to generate and test new warfighting concepts ideas is through experimentation, specifically done at sea by Sailors themselves. Fortunately, the Navy has the Other Transactional Authorities (OTA) mechanism at its disposal, a ready-made and proven means to quickly procure prototypes for such experimentation while longer-term concepts and requirements are refined.

Specifically, getting USVs of all types into the hands of Sailors and planning for increased experimentation will provide insights into key questions such as which missions the various unmanned craft should undertake, and how those vessels best fit into the wider naval tactical and operational construct. Development of those new doctrines, strategies, and tactics is needed, and with rapidly developing technologies and capabilities of potential adversaries, we no longer have the luxury of time to go through the traditional, decade-long requirements and acquisition process just to get the first iteration of new systems to the fleet for experimentation.

While it is encouraging to see Navy plans to move quickly to bring initial Medium and Large USVs into the fleet, other unmanned platforms are equally ready for such an approach. Innovation is the key to shaping tomorrow’s Navy, and getting USVs of all shapes and sizes to the fleet for Sailors to try out is the best approach to achieving it.

Wayne Prender is Senior Vice President of Applied Technologies & Advanced Programs (ATAP), as well as a member of the Textron Systems Executive Leadership Team. Prior to assuming his current position, Prender served as Vice President, Control & Surface Systems for Textron Systems’ Unmanned Systems business, focusing on programs including the Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV), Cased Telescoped (CT) weapons and ammunition, and Command and Control (C2) Technology programs. He also served in the U.S. Army as a Platoon Leader, Shop Officer, Battalion Intelligence Officer in Iraq, where he was awarded the Bronze Star, and Aide-de-Camp for the Commanding General of the U.S. Army’s 20th Support Command (CBRNE). Prender holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from St. Louis University, and a Master of Science degree in Technology Management and an MBA from the University of Maryland (UMUC).

Featured Image: Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle. (Textron image)