Category Archives: Drones

Development, testing, deployment, and use of drones.

Impacts of the Robotics Age on Naval Force Structure Planning

The following is adapted from an abstract for presentation at the Naval War College EMC Chair Symposium’s panel on Force Structure.

By Jeffrey E. Kline, CAPT, USN (ret)

This paper’s theme is that our overly platform-focused naval force structure planning and acquisition system is burdened with so many inhibitors to change that we are ill prepared to capitalize on the missile and robotics age of warfare. Refocusing our efforts to emphasize the “right side” of an offensive kill chain to deliver kinetic and non-kinetic effects will aid in overcoming these challenges and prioritize our efforts where cutting edge technology can best be applied in naval warfare. I will address traditional foundations for force structure planning, inhibitors to changing force structure, and how focusing on the packages delivered instead of the delivery platforms will allow us to better leverage new technologies in the 2020 timeframe.

Ideally, naval force structure grows from national strategy, national treasure, technological advancement, and potential adversary capabilities. National strategy provides the rationale, purpose, and priority of choices to be made in creating a fleet. National treasure provides both the resources, and constrains that force strategic choices. New technologies provide opportunities for increasing fleet effectiveness, and may also potentially expose vulnerabilities for fleet survival when adversary capabilities are considered. This is a complex problem with only these four factors. However, U.S. force structure acquisition is also challenged by other influences. These other pressures inhibit capitalization of new technologies and slow reaction in the face of new challenges.

The most powerful of these is the inertia caused by an existing fleet being a large national capital investment with long build and life times. Ships and aircraft cost billions to design, build, and maintain. They require a capital-intensive industry requiring heavy equipment, infrastructure, and a skilled workforce, all generations in the making. The consequence is annual programming and budgeting decisions marginal in nature. It is the nature of a large fleet to evolve slowly, in lieu of revolutionary changes to its composition. This is a reality each Chief of Naval Operation faces when considering change to naval forces. Their relatively short tenure restricts their ability to execute a maritime strategy which has a real effect on ship and aircraft procurement.

Since our first six frigates were authorized in 1794, internal political and economic factors have been another major influence on fleet composition. Illustrated well by Ian Toll in his Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy, the potential windfalls on local economies when selected to provide force structure generate powerful political pressures on force generation decisions and create the desire for stabilization once those selections are made. The senators and congressman representing districts which build ships and aircraft rightfully defend existing programs for the benefit of their constituents.

This image provided by the US navy shows sailors moving an X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator onto an aircraft elevator aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush Tuesday, May 14, 2013. The drone was launched off the George H.W. Bush to be the first aircraft carrier to catapult launch an unmanned aircraft from its flight deck. (AP Phioto/U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Walter)
US navy sailors moving an X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator onto an aircraft elevator aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush Tuesday, May 14, 2013. The drone was launched off the George H.W. Bush to be the first aircraft carrier to catapult launch an unmanned aircraft from its flight deck. (AP Phioto/U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Walter)

Next, the overly compartmentalized nature of fleet planning, budgeting, building, and maintenance due to large and resource-competing bureaucracies create a lethargic and inefficient environment for change. Multiple oversight agencies, including Congress, make any decision made by one program manager susceptible to overly zealous scrutiny which disincentivizes innovation. Our ability to implement rapid change is lost when stakeholders exceed the point where responsibility and authority can be clearly defined. This is not to argue that Congress should abandon their Constitutional authority to maintain a Navy, but the real change is needed inside the programming, acquisition, and maintenance system to return to a more efficient hierarchy of command to control fleet composition.  Many of these changes will require Congressional action to amend regulatory burden.

Finally, the very nature of a fleet’s strategic value engenders conservatism in senior naval leadership when faced with the options for change. This is not necessarily an unhealthy view as the loss of the fleet can mean the loss of sea lines of communication and therefore a war.  Nonetheless, overvaluing what worked in the last major maritime war at the expense of not recognizing technology that changes the conveyance of maritime power can mean a fleet unprepared to combat an enemy that is not so inhibited.   

None of these influences on force structure planning can be lightly dismissed. The danger is that collectively they result in a harmful escalation of commitment toward obsolete platforms and only marginal changes in force structure in the face of major technological changes. The result today is a brittle U.S. Fleet that is susceptible to capability surprise and slow to react to adversary’s threats.

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DARPAs Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV).

The United States is not unique in facing these challenges. Historically, major changes to naval force structure have resulted from war and/or great technology leaps. Ramming, row, and boarding vessels gave way to the naval cannon and sail; sail to steam; rifled gun and armor to aircraft; aircraft to missiles; and now we are on the dawn of a robotics age. Missiles, robots, miniaturization, hypersonic technologies, and artificial intelligence give the advantage to smaller, many, faster, and more lethal offensive capabilities. Our challenge is to not allow the restraints on the current force structure planning process to cede these advantages to potential adversaries.

Meeting each of the 2015 maritime strategic capabilities like all domain access, deterrence, sea control, power projection, and maritime security while constrained by the budget and procurement process and contested by potential adversaries’ growing capabilities will require new thinking in platforms, weapons, and command and control. Advancement into the robotic age allows us to emphasize options to achieve a desired tactical end state which enables our operational and strategic goals. This is somewhat a reversal in the traditional hierarchy of the levels of war. Yet, it is historically accurate. Technology empowers a tactical edge in maritime warfare, providing new operational and strategic choices. For example, investing in a very “smart” long range autonomous offensive missile that can out-range those of our adversary may permit us to build less expensive, less well defended ships from which to launch them thereby making sea control more affordable.

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A Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) integrated on F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. US Navy photo.

Consider a new frigate equipped with unmanned aerial vehicles to hunt, and long range missile to kill, against today’s DDG Flight III without a long range surface missile. Granted, better to have a DDG Flight III armed with the same long range missile, so long as we can afford sufficient DDGs with these capabilities to meet all the other requirements around the world, the most capacity-demanding being maritime security, but our budget constrains us. The message here is not necessarily to favor a frigate over a DDG, but to refocus our investments on less expensive “payloads” delivered, kinetic or cyber, not the more expensive delivery platforms. A stark example is a weapon that has huge maritime influence but no maritime platform, the DF-21. Focusing on offensive payloads also lessens many of the political, economic, and bureaucratic challenges associated with large capital investments associated with platform programs. 

This “package focus” first is particularly applicable in the electromagnetic and cyber realm. Inexpensive, disposable UAVs employing radar reflectors or chirp jamming may be better delivery platforms for EM “packages” than a F-18 Growler. In the defense, developing “Left of kill chain” effects against an adversary need not be expensive, but does require synchronization with the movement of actual forces. The desired effects may rely as much on adversary perception as on physical outcomes. The solutions here may be more organizational, training, and in the area of concept of employment than force structure additions. However, it again allows us new options in force structure alternatives.

When building a fleet for contested environments with real financial constraints, our investments should be focused on the right side of our offensive kill chain, and on the left side of an adversary’s kill chain. In addition to putting the focus of warfare close to the enemy and further from us, this enables us to capitalize on technologies provided by the missile and robotics age and constrains the inhibitors to change from a platform focused acquisition system. Seeing missiles and unmanned systems as entities themselves, and not just extensions of manned platforms, is a concept needing early adoption. Creating an unmanned system resource sponsor in OPNAV N99 is a good first step. Empowering them with sufficient resources will be the next.

We are not there yet.  In the FY17 DoD President’s budget, a bit over 40% is allocated for aircraft procurement and shipbuilding, only 9% for munitions. Real change will be required, involving Congress and the Department of the Navy.

A retired naval officer with 26 years of service, Jeff is currently a Professor of Practice in the Operations Research department and holds the Chair of Systems Engineering Analysis. He teaches Joint Campaign Analysis, executive risk assessment and coordinates maritime security education programs offered at NPS. Jeff supports applied analytical research in maritime operations and security, theater ballistic missile defense, and future force composition studies. He has served on several Naval Study Board Committees. His NPS faculty awards include the Superior Civilian Service Medal, 2011 Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS) Award for Teaching of OR Practice, 2009 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Homeland Security Award, 2007 Hamming Award for interdisciplinary research, 2007 Wayne E. Meyers Award for Excellence in Systems Engineering Research, and the 2005 Northrop Grumman Award for Excellence in Systems Engineering. He is a member of the Military Operations Research Society and the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science.  

Could Robot Submarines Replace Australia’s Ageing Collins Class Submarines?

This article originally featured on The Conversation. It can be read in its original form here.

By Sean Welsh

The decision to replace Australia’s submarines has been stalled for too long by politicians afraid of the bad media about “dud subs” the Collins class got last century.

Collins class subs deserved criticism in the 1990s. They did not meet Royal Australian Navy (RAN) specifications. But in this century, after much effort, they came good. Though they are expensive, Collins class boats have “sunk” US Navy attack submarines, destroyers and aircraft carriers in exercises.

Now that the Collins class is up for replacement, we have an opportunity to reevaluate our requirements and see what technology might meet them. And just as drones are replacing crewed aircraft in many roles, some military thinkers assume the future of naval war will be increasingly autonomous.

The advantages of autonomy in submarines are similar to those of autonomy in aircraft. Taking the pilot out of the plane means you don’t have to provide oxygen, worry about g-forces or provide bathrooms and meals for long trips.

Taking 40 sailors and 20 torpedoes out of a submarine will do wonders for its range and stealth. Autonomous submarines could be a far cheaper option to meet the RAN’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) requirements than crewed submarines.

Submarines do more than sink ships. Naval war is rare but ISR never stops. Before sinking the enemy you must find them and know what they look like. ISR was the original role of drones and remains their primary role today.

Last month, Boeing unveiled a prototype autonomous submarine with long range and high endurance. It has a modular design and could perhaps be adapted to meet RAN ISR requirements.

Boeing is developing a long range autonomous submarine that could have military applications.

Thus, rather than buy 12 crewed submarines to replace the Collins class, perhaps the project could be split into meeting the ISR requirement with autonomous submarines that can interoperate with a smaller number of crewed submarines that sink the enemy.

Future submarines might even be “carriers” for autonomous and semi-autonomous UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and UUVs (unmanned undersea vehicles).

Keeping People on Deck

However, while there may be a role for autonomous submarines in the future of naval warfare, there are some significant limitations to what they can achieve today and in the foreseeable future.

Most of today’s autonomous submarines have short ranges and are designed for very specific missions, such as mine sweeping. They are not designed to sail from Perth to Singapore or Hong Kong, sneak up on enemy ships and submarines, and sink them with torpedoes.

Also, while drone aircraft can be controlled from a remote location, telepiloting is not an option for a long range sub at depth.

The very low frequency radio transceivers in Western Australia used by the Pentagon to signal “boomers” (nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarines) in the Indian Ocean have very low transmission rates: only a few hundred bytes per second.

You cannot telepilot a submarine lying below a thermocline in Asian waters from Canberra like you can telepilot a drone flying in Afghanistan with high-bandwidth satellite links from Nevada.

Contemporary telepiloted semi-autonomous submarines are controlled by physical tethers, basically waterproof network cables, when they dive. This limits range to a few kilometers.

Who’s the Captain?

To consider autonomy in the role of sinking the enemy, the RAN would likely want an “ethical governor” to skipper the submarines. This involves a machine making life and death decisions: a “Terminator” as captain so to speak.

This would present a policy challenge for government and a trust issue for the RAN. It would certainly attract protest and raise accountability questions.

On the other hand, at periscope depth, you can telepilot a submarine. To help solve the chronic recruitment problems of the Collins class, the RAN connected them to the internet. If you have a satellite “dongle on the periscope” so the crew can email their loved ones, then theoretically you can telepilot the submarine as well.

That said, if you are sneaking up on an enemy sub and are deep below the waves, you can’t.

Even if you can telepilot, radio emissions directing the sub’s actions above the waves might give away its position to the enemy. Telepiloting is just not as stealthy as radio silence. And stealth is critical to a submarine in war.

Telepiloting also exposes the sub to the operational risks of cyberwarfare and jamming.

There is great technological and political risk in the Future Submarine Project. I don’t think robot submarines can replace crewed submarines but they can augment them and, for some missions, shift risk from vital human crews to more expendable machines.

Ordering nothing but crewed submarines in 2016 might be a bad naval investment.

Sean Welsh is a Doctoral Candidate in Robot Ethics at the University of Canterbury. The working title of his dissertation is Moral Code: Programming the Ethical Robot. He spent 17 years working in software engineering for organisations such as British Telecom, Telstra Australia, Fitch Ratings, James Cook University and Lumata. He has given several conference papers on programming ethics into robots, two of which are appearing in a forthcoming book, A World of Robots, to be published by Springer later in the year.

Sean Welsh does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Featured Image: HMAS Rankin at periscope depth. United States Navy, Photographer’s Mate 1st Class David A. Levy

 

Naval Aviation Week: The Conclusion

By Wick Hobson

As a man who as spent entirely too much time flying in the immediate vicinity of the colloquial Death Star (and by that, I mean the aircraft carrier) over the last year, I know firsthand how forgone a conclusion naval aviation can seem. Naval aviation, as the world knows it, is a multibillion dollar power projection leviathan that literally catapults fire control solutions from mobile sovereign territory to the bad guys du jour, right? Kick the tires, light the fires; open and shut case… Or is it? From future capabilities to current funding limitations, reality is inescapably more complex.

While GCC allies transition toward hegemonic peacekeeping operations in the Middle East and posture their forces for a long term dichotomy with Iran, you can almost feel the deck of American air power at sea roll beneath your feet in new directions. Every day, the emphasis shifts incrementally away from permissive, asymmetric conflict in the Arabian Gulf and toward modern, access-denied conflict with technologically contemporary rivals. Although Operation Inherent Resolve may retain focus on surgical strikes flown overhead, our authors looked ahead to the next generation of challenges awaiting the proverbial fleet.

Speaking of ISR, how did an article summarizing the future of naval aviation go four full paragraphs without mentioning drones? Ben Ho Wan Beng arrived in time to keep my bitterness against unmanned aviation in check with a fantastic look at the rise of UAS proliferation among littoral states seeking bang for their maritime buck in his piece, “What’s the Buzz: Ship-Based Unmanned Aviation & Its Influence on Littoral Navies.”

Jon Paris gave us a taste of the war none of us want to fight in his article, “Parallax and Bullseye Buoys.” An edge-of-your-seat thriller, Jon straps you into the cockpit for an IMC, EMCON recovery onboard a lights-out carrier in hostile skies. I don’t want to live in that world, and fortunately we aren’t in that kind of extremis yet, but Jon prepares the reader for the. He articulated the complexities of navigating in GPS-denied airspace and the necessity of electromagnetic spectrum fluency for the modern A2/AD environment, an issue recently addressed by CAPT Mark Glover at C4ISR.

Meanwhile, what good is a debate on the direction of military planning without a healthy dose of fiscal reality? Bridging the well funded past to the unaffordable future, Timothy Walton gave us a sneak peek from next month’s report due from The Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower. He reviewed the shrinking scale of the carrier air wing by the numbers and illustrated unmistakable mission gaps created along the way. From the salad days of the Tomcats to the uncertain future of the Joint Strike Fighter, Mr. Walton illuminated the reduced footprint of the current air wing and possible ramifications facing the CSG of the future.

CDR Gregory Smith broadened the topic of integrated manned and unmanned operations with his article, “Trusting Autonomous Systems: It’s More Than Technology.” Beyond the short-term friction of terrified Djiboutian air traffic controllers, CDR Smith illustrated the essential progress required to instill the confidence required for fully integrated manned and unmanned combat operations. From C2 structures in flight to command structures in the Pentagon, the ground truth on drone warfare at sea has yet to reach IOC by any definition. CDR Smith’s article provided clear context for the way ahead.

Michael Glynn delivered the cold, hard truth on data collection efforts in Naval Aviation: if a P-8A Poseidon collects 900GB of data on a sortie with no client for the information, does it validate its R&D costs? His article, “Information Management and the Future of Naval Aviation,” provided a resounding YES while detailing the challenges facing efficient data extraction from maritime ISR operations.

Peter Marino adds international affairs into the mix by assessing the scope and implications of American technology transfer to India for the development of a powerful new carrier. Through a video review of “Making Waves: Aiding India’s Next Generation Aircraft Carrier”, he explores the unique value of naval aviation in foreign policy. 

Our selections here delve into the challenges that lay ahead. I find the common thread unifying all of our authors to be the pursuit of value to the proverbial customer in an environment defined by change. What is it, exactly, that we are creating with all of this jet fuel?

The delivery of value to the stakeholder is incumbent on any military initiative from weapons safe to weapons free. On the one hand, that means providing maritime security and intelligence collection in the absence of conflict. Our authors speak from ground truth experience on the importance of developing and maintaining a cogent strategy for the proliferation of ISR and the subsequent decoding of the data collected.

On the other hand, delivering to the stakeholder requires a conscientious investment in fire control solutions against technologically advanced adversaries in denied airspace. There is no future without U-CLASS and there is no future without the JSF; these have to be integrated into the future of naval combat at least in the intermediate term. But what good is a fire control solution without C2 assurance? Are we ready for a GPS-denied environment? What will it take for tomorrow’s navy to compete in the conflicts of the future?

Ultimately, the sting of sequestration and the pain of acquisitions make the road ahead formidable. The hardest question to answer may be the most simple. What ends are we attempting to achieve by the means of naval aviation? Once our days of busting bunkers in the Middle East with precision guided munitions no longer carry the bulk of our workload, how do we leverage the unique capabilities of naval aviation across the entire spectrum of the rules of engagement to provide value to the theater commander?

It’s an exciting time to be a part of naval aviation. With such seismic shifts in sensor capabilities, adversary technological acumen, and A2/AD threat proliferation cast against cutthroat funding and acquisitions, this is not a sport for the faint of heart. Vision, flexibility, and creativity will define the success or failure of our transition to the next war we fight. Please join me in congratulating our authors on a job well done for their contribution to the next step, and feel free to join the discussion with your own feedback at nextwar@cimsec.org!

LT W. W. Hobson is an MH-60R pilot. The views expressed in this article are entirely his own and are not endorsed by the US Navy.

Trusting Autonomous Systems: It’s more than technology

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By CDR Greg Smith

How will naval aviation employ unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the future?   The answer is, of course, “it depends.”  It depends on technology, on the economy and budgets, on whether we are at war or peace, on leadership.  It also depends on less interesting things like how squadrons and air wings are organized.  Given the rapid advances in unmanned systems technology and the success of unmanned platforms like Predator and BAMS-D,[1] UAVs will certainly proliferate and significantly impact the future of naval aviation.  If properly integrated, future manned-unmanned teams could deliver exponential increases in combat power, but integration of unmanned aircraft requires a level of trust in autonomous systems that does not yet exist in naval aviation.   Building trust will require technical improvements that increase the “trustworthiness” of UAVs, but it will also require naval aviation to establish organizations that enhance trust in UAVs with the goal of fully integrating them into the fight.   Indeed, organization will likely be the limiting factor with regard to the pace of integrating trusted UAVs.   Therefore, naval aviation should consider the impact organization will have on the ability of aviators to trust UAVs and balance this among the competing requirements for introducing new unmanned platforms.

The Issue is Trust

Although naval aviators are perceived as natural risk-takers, they are trained to take no unnecessary risk and to mitigate risk throughout every evolution.  Therefore, UAV integration will occur only when aviators trust UAVs to the same extent that they trust another aviator flying in close proximity as part of a strike package or during coordinated antisubmarine warfare sorties today. 

The proliferation and success of UAVs in the past decade belies the fact that aviators still do not trust them.  The vast majority of unmanned aircraft continue to fly only scheduled sorties in pre-established air space in order to ensure separation from manned aircraft.  In addition, naval aviators operate with an abundance of caution around UAVs.  Aircrews are briefed on planned UAV routes and orbits prior to a mission and routinely deviate from airspace assignments or coordinate new air space in flight to ensure safe separation from UAVs.    Being notified that an operator has lost communications with a nearby UAV (i.e. it is autonomously executing a pre-programmed reacquisition profile) assists manned aircraft, but it also raises the hair on the back of an aviator’s neck.   In the terminal area it becomes necessary to fly closer to UAVs, which is accomplished safely with the assistance of ground air traffic controllers.  Still, as with any congestion, the threat to manned aircraft increases, especially in expeditionary locations. After several, near mid-air collisions with UAVs in 2010, one task force commander grounded his manned aircraft at a remote operating location until he was assured that the local control tower and UAV operators, who were physically located half-way around the world, would improve procedural compliance.  Anecdotes like these abound, demonstrating both the adaptability and skepticism of aviators flying near UAVs.  After nearly a decade of sharing the sky with UAVs, most naval aviators no longer believe that UAVs are trying to kill them, but one should not confuse this sentiment with trusting the platform, technology, or operators. 

Building trust in autonomous systems should be a goal of those who will design the UAVs of the future as well as those who will employ them in the Fleet, because establishing trust in autonomous systems may be the tipping point that will unleash the revolutionary combat potential of UAVs.   Naval aviation could fully integrate trusted UAVs into every mission area of every community.  Unmanned tankers, wingmen (wingbots?), jammers, decoys, missile trucks, minesweepers, and communications relays could be launched from the decks of aircraft carriers, destroyers, support ships, from bases ashore, or from aircraft cargo bays, wing pylons and bomb bay stations in the coming decades, truly revolutionizing naval aviation.  However, lack of trust is a critical obstacle which must be overcome before such a proliferation of UAVs can occur.

There are several technological improvements that can contribute to trust by enhancing situational awareness and safety of both manned and unmanned platforms.  Improvements in see-and-avoid technology are needed to assist UAV operators when the UAV is flying in proximity of manned platforms.  UAV command and control architectures and traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS), as well as radars and data links, require improved reliability, security, and flexibility to ensure survivability in an anti-access environment or in the face of cyber or space attacks.  Systems that provide manned platforms with increased situational awareness regarding the location of UAVs and the intended flight profile would also enhance trustworthiness of UAVs.  Today, the vast majority of naval aviation is not comfortable sharing an altitude block with a UAV in day, visual meteorological conditions (VMC), much less during war at sea in an anti-access environment.  Technological improvements that make UAVs more trustworthy are necessary but not sufficient for establishing trust between an aviator and a machine.  Sufficient trust will also require training, mission experience, and technical understanding of the system. 

Organization matters

Given the technological enhancements described above, it is not a stretch to imagine a manned F-35 establishing a CAP station with a UAV wingman, or a P-8 crew employing UAVs or unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) to search for a submarine, or an E-2D using a UAV to extend the range of its radar or data link, or an EA-18G commanding a UAV to jam air defenses or deliver an electromagnetic pulse. There remain challenges to fielding these capabilities, but the technology will soon exist to safely integrate UAVs into these naval aviation missions and many more.  This level of integration raises numerous questions about UAV organizations and their personnel. 

Who would be responsible for the success, failure, and safety of the missions? Would each community operate UAVs that support its mission or would a UAV community operate all UAVs performing the full spectrum of naval aviation missions? How would a UAV operator develop the expertise to execute complex tactical tasks in close coordination with manned platforms? What tactical and technical training will be required to integrate UAVs in this manner? How are the skills of pilots and UAV operators similar? How are they different? What portions of the unmanned sorties are accomplished autonomously and which require a link with a UAV operator?  From where will UAVs launch and recover? From where will they be controlled and who will control them?

The answers to these questions depend on how squadrons of the future will be organized to command, operate and maintain the UAVs.  In turn, each organizational model significantly influences the amount of additional training, coordination, and experience required to achieve the trust necessary to fully integrate UAVs.   Consider the issue of who controls the UAVs.  Some options include: control by the pilot of a manned aircraft herself; control by another aviator in the same aircraft or section; control by an aviator from the same naval aviation community outside the section; control by a UAV operator from a UAV community — aboard ship, ashore, or airborne; and fully autonomous operation.   The amount of trust required to execute complex missions in close proximity to UAVs is the same regardless of how the UAV is controlled, but the amount of trust inherent in each scenario varies greatly.   Decisions about these elements will significantly influence how quickly aviators will be able to trust, and therefore integrate, UAVs.   As technology overcomes the challenges posed by the various capabilities implied above, organizational structures will determine how quickly UAVs can be integrated into the fight.

Beyond U-CLASS

Naval aviation’s plans for its next UAV, the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance System (U-CLASS), will prudently focus on ensuring the safe introduction of a novel platform in a budget constrained environment.   Yet, looking beyond U-CLASS, there is the potential for naval aviation to exponentially increase its combat effectiveness by integrating UAVs in every mission area.  Technological innovation is necessary to make UAVs more trustworthy, but naval aviation should also understand how organization will facilitate or impede the integration of trusted UAVs.  The optimal structure of future UAV units will maximize trust between manned and unmanned platforms and allow for innovation and growth in integration. 

Commander Smith is a Naval Flight Officer and the former Commanding Officer of VP-26.  These are his views and do not reflect the views of the United States Navy.

This article featured as a part of CIMSEC’s September 2015 topic week, The Future of Naval Aviation. You can access the topic week’s articles here