Tag Archives: USVs

Sea Control 89 – ONR Autonomous Swarm Boats

Wseacontrol2e discuss the Office of Naval Research (ONR’s) James River test of an autonomous swarm of boat drones, or Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV’s). These USV’s were modified version of boats found on most US Navy ships. CAPT Carl Conti (USN, ret) is one of the developers and leaders on this project, and will discuss the history, technology, future, and human interaction of this exciting project.

DOWNLOAD: ONR Autonomous Boat Swarm

Music: Sam LaGrone

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An International Guide to Drone Vocabulary

International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny. See the rest of our IntMarSatWeek offerings here

Drones have become a popular subject of discussion. And, like the previous spread of the non-technical term “tank,” usage of the term “drone” to describe unmanned aerial/surface/undersea vehicles is nowadays ubiquitous. Yet each nation confronts the technology with its own language inflections. Therefore we present the first International Guide to Drone Vocabulary.

Drone – (English) – an unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the first known usage was before the 12th century when they participated in the Crusades, or as known in Middle English, “Ye Olde Warre On Terrore”

Dronin – (Japanese) – A drone that loses communication with its master. Programmed to automatically search for a new master, preferably a stronger one like a cruiser, for example.

Dronone – (Italian, augmentative) – A big drone, equivalent to an American UCAV or UCLASS. Somehow the letter “C” makes a drone bigger even if a foreigner would expect the letter “B” to achieve such effect. Hint for visitors to Poland – UBAV pronounced in Polish means “fun.” Hint for visitors to France – don’t mistake Dronone with Danone.

Dronino – (Italian, diminutive) – A small drone. Used to familiarize kids with this new technology.

Dronik – (Polish, diminutive) – Same as Dronino. A baby drone.

Dronisko – (Polish) – A big friendly drone. Lacking an effective national air defense network, Poland took an alternative approach by switching from defensive drones to those facilitating accommodation. If you can’t beat an enemy, make it a friend.

Dronislav Droninovich Dronski – (Russian) – Name of a famous Russian drone designer from the 20th century. In recognition of his achievements, the Russian Navy named its latest unmanned SSBN after him. For those concerned with the ethical and legal aspects of unmanned technology, the question what to do with a genie freed from a bottle remains.

Dronenwehr – (German) – Operational concept advancing drones in anti-ballistic missile defense.

Dronentag – (German)The Day of Drones, a sci-fi thriller about an apocalyptic future in which drones take control over humans.

Dromazon – (Int’l) – Amazon delivery service replacing Prime and marketed with slogan “Faster than Internet”

The above list is far from complete, and readers are welcome to extend it in the comments section below. Its sole purpose is to acquaint the broader public with unmanned technology and make it friendlier 🙂

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland. His area of interest is the context, purpose, and structure of navies – and promoting discussion on these subjects in his country.

Defeating Floating IEDs with USVs

By CDR Jeremy Thompson, USN

This concept proposal explores a technology solution to the problem of risk to first responders when identifying, neutralizing, and exploiting “surface-floating” maritime improvised explosive devices (SF/MIEDs).

Does the Navy need a maritime equivalent of the Talon Counter-IED robot?
Does the Navy need a maritime equivalent of the Talon Counter-IED robot?

When considering the proliferation of technology for use against land-based improvised explosive devices (IEDs), it may be puzzling to many observers why remote IED Defeat (IEDD) technologies, particularly robots, have yet to fully cross over into the maritime domain. Although some unmanned underwater vehicle programs designed for limpet mine-like object detection on ships are in development, much less attention has been given to countering SF/MIEDs. In general, the purpose of MIEDs is to destroy, incapacitate, harass, divert, or distract targets such as ships, maritime critical infrastructure and key resources (CI/KR), and personnel. MIEDs may also present obstacles (real or perceived) with the purpose of area denial or egress denial. As a subset of the MIED family, the “surface-floating” MIED operates on the water’s surface in environments such as harbors, the littorals, the riparian, and the open ocean. It may be either free floating or self-propelled, with remote control (manual or pre-programmed) or with no control (moves with the current). It is a tempting low-tech, low-cost option for an adversary.

Thankfully, SF/MIED incidents have been rare in recent times, the last significant use occurring during the Vietnam war. Nonetheless, a capability gap is highlighted by the challenge they represent—namely, that a human must unnecessarily expose themselves to the object. One material solution to a surface-floating IED may be to develop an IED Defeat Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) around a design philosophy based on IEDD robots used in land warfare. Protection of high value units and critical infrastructure / key resources would be its primary missions along with counter-area denial. Its most likely operating environment would be CI/KR dense areas such as harbors and seaports as well as the riparian environment since rivers are constricted in the water space available to shipping to maneuver around SF/MIED threats. A key element of design philosophy in an IEDD USV would be to meet the expectations of the customer—the first responder. Military explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) units and civilian bomb squads are much more likely to accept a platform in which the console and all other human interface features are nearly identical in look, placement, feel, and responsiveness as the most popular robots they have been accustomed to operating such as the TALON robot by QinetiQ and Packbot by iRobot.

A functional hierarchy could be drawn around major tasks such as reacquisition of a suspected surface-floating IED, identify/classify, threat removal, neutralization, and recovery of the IED for exploitation. Modularized payload packages to execute these tasks may include a towing package, an attachments package (e.g. hooks, magnets), a neutralization tool package to include both precision and general disruption EOD tools, an explosives, chemical, and radiological detection package, and an electronic counter-measures package.

Numerous trade-offs between weight, power, stability, and the complexity of modular packages would need to be considered and tested, however, variants like a “high-low” combination of a complex and simple USV working together may minimize some of the trade-off risk. If an IEDD USV were to be developed key recommendations include:

  • Official liaison between NAVSEA (US Naval Sea Systems Command) between PMS-406 (Unmanned Maritime Systems) and PMS-408 (EOD/CREW program) to ensure the transfer of USV expertise between PMS divisions.
  • A DOTMLPF assessment to determine whether limpet mines or surface-floating IEDs are more likely and more dangerous to U.S. assets and personnel given the uncertainty of future naval operations.
  • Including civilian bomb squads in the design and development process early to increase the potential for demand and cross-over with the law enforcement sector and therefore reduced long-term program costs.

Current UUV programs under development include the Hull UUV Localization System (HULS) and Hovering Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (HAUV).

This article was re-posted by permission from, and appeared in its original form at NavalDrones.com.

Armed USVs: A Deeper Dive

The U.S. Navy’s recent testing of a Protector unmanned surface vessel (USV) with the Precision Engagement Module (PEM) weapons system warrants deeper analysis than provided by news reporting.  The project is sponsored by the Chief of Naval Operation’s Expeditionary Warfare Division (N95) and the Naval Sea Systems Command’s Naval Special Warfare Program Office.  To understand the ramifications of this testing, it’s worthwhile to elaborate a bit on the components that make up the PEW:

Protector USV – The U.S. Navy’s Protector is a joint development between Israel’s Rafael, BAE Systems, and Lockeed Martin.  Originally conceived as a platform for force protection and port security, the 11 meter vessel’s new armament opens up a range of possibilities for future employment (discussed below).  Much like a UAV, the Protector requires two operators based ashore or at sea; one to drive the vessel and the other to operate the sensors and armament.

Toplite EOS  The Protector’s Electro-Optical Surveillance, Observation, and Targeting System consists of a four-axis gimbal stabilized turret housing a FLIR, low-light television camera, an eye-safe Laser Range Finder (LRF), and a Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS) compatible, laser target illuminator.  The system interfaces to the USV’s radar, navigation systems (Inertial Navigation System and GPS), and the MK 49 weapons mount. 

MK 49 Mod 0  – Based on the mini-Typhoon family of lightweight, stabilized, remote-controlled weapons mounts, the MK 49 is a joint venture between Rafael and General Dynamics.  The Navy’s MK 49 features a .50 caliber machine gun in addition to the dual-missile pod.  A larger version of the Typhoon forms the basis of the Navy’s Mk 38 Mod 2, 25 mm remotely operated chain guns currently installed on several classes of warships.

Spike LR – The 13 kg fire-and-forget weapon is derived from Rafael’s original Spike anti-armor weapon.  The Spike missile uses electro-optic and infrared sensors to identify and lock onto the target.  The missile can be guided en route to the target by a thin fiber optic tether that is spooled up and uncoils automatically during flight, providing the operator with a real-time first person view.  The Spike’s 4 kilometer range and tandem warhead makes it effective against moving or stationary targets at sea or ashore, including boats and armored vehicles.  Six Spikes were fired on October 24, all of them hitting their target. 

How could such a platform be employed tactically?  In a counter-swarm scenario, a GEN I Mothership would deploy with four to six Protectors in the well deck.  Operating in conjunction with UAVs, helicopters, or maritime patrol aircraft, the Protectors would be cued towards a group of enemy fast attack craft (FAC) or fast inshore attack craft (FIAC).  When the appropriate engagement criteria were met, the USV would launch its salvo of two SPIKE missiles into the enemy swarm, leaving “leakers” for armed UAS, helos, or a ship’s defensive weapons.  Other perturbations of this scenario involve the use of USVs to draw a manned boat swarm away from high value units, or towards an airborne ambush.  Similar to the way UAVs are operated, the USVs would patrol in 24 hour “orbits” each watching a sector oriented to a potential threat (such as a known FAC/FIAC operating base).  The USVs would also screen high value units (carriers, lightly armed supply ships, etc.) during strait or chokepoint transits.

Another way this type of compact weapons system could be employed is to provide economical, rapidly deployable anti-surface firepower in an inland sea or riverine environment.  As an example, the oil rich Caspian Sea is currently undergoing somewhat of a naval arms race, with Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan all adding bases and warships there.  The ability of the U.S. Navy to engage in that environment is limited, but flying in armed USVs to a near-by friendly base would provide at least a minimal anti-surface surveillance and engagement capability.  The craft could even be modified for air-drop, like the similarly sized 11 meter RHIB Maritime Craft Aerial Deployment System (MCADS) in use with the Navy’s Special Boat Teams.

With additional autonomous features, a USV like the Protector could perform as a lethal autonomous robot (LAR). Jeffrey S. Thurnher argues that the pace of future warfare against threats such as Iranian boat swarms warrants the speed enabled by autonomous decision making in USVs. Although the Protector uses Rafael’s Lightlink jam-resistant communications system, in a future conflict, adversary jamming and cyber-attack capabilities will require drones to autonomously identify, track, and target enemy vessels without the interface of a manned operator.

The PEM testing follows the Navy’s recent trend of providing additional firepower to existing surface ships. In addition to the above-mentioned MK 38 chain gun serving across the fleet, the Navy’s Patrol Coastal class currently operating in the Persian Gulf will soon be fitted with the Griffin short-ranged missiles. These improvements indicate a degree of urgency in preparing for the counter-swarm mission.   According to NAVSEA, the “USV PEM project was developed in response to recent world events involving swarms of small attack craft, as well as threat assessments outlined in recent studies conducted by the Naval Warfare Development Command.”

This article cross-posted with permission from NavalDrones.com.