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Dual-Use Drone Swarms

 

Weaponizing individual drones is just the beginning…

By Chris Rawley

Last winter over at Information Dissemination, I made the observation that swarming robots will irreversibly transform warfare, and I hold to that argument.  The discussion and progress in this area is developing quickly.  Much of this conversation involves non-military uses for drone technology, but as with many tools, there are also applications for warfare.  A host of militarily useful scenarios can be envisioned to employ very small unmanned naval platforms in a non-lethal fashion.

In the videos below, quadrotors are used to perform simple construction tasks. The technology that is today viewed as modern performance art could some day be utilized to build an expeditionary forward operating base remotely.  A C-130 would fly over a likely FOB site and deploy hundreds of UAVs, which would quickly go to work filling Hesco Barriers and building fighting positions all night long based on a pre-programmed design, a scoop of sand at a time.  Out of power, the drones could then land on the FOB and relay observations to the incoming troops. The site would be defensible as soon as the first Marines arrived, leaving Sea Bees for more valuable construction projects.

 

Researchers in the UK are developing autonomous vehicles which will replace the tedious role of scuba divers who painstakingly seed damaged coral reefs.  The alternative being worked is to allow “multiple small autonomous robots following a simple set of rules and seeking out coral fragments and re-cementing them to the reef.  But first the robot needs to be driven by a computer ‘trained’ to recognise coral fragments from other objects such as rocks, litter, sponges and other sea creatures… The swarm of autonomous underwater robots will operate according to a simple set of ‘micro-rules’ to seek out coral fragments and re-cement them to the reef.”

A swarm of nano-UUVs similarly equipped as the “coralbots” could quietly infiltrate an enemy naval port and use sensors and algorithms to recognize seawater intakes on ships.  These intakes are indispensable on just about every vessel and are used for heat exchangers cooling engines and various pumps, to make fresh water for the crew, and to propel water-jet equipped ships like the LCS.  The UUVs could inject a combination of mud or sand scooped up from the harbor with epoxy into these intakes, effectively rendering the fleet useless and unable to get underway.  A similar attack could gunk up the intakes to power plants, refineries, and other coastal infrastructure.

 

The idea of drones mimicking insects might have other applications.  Like bees or fire ants who can subdue a much larger predator, disposable micro-UAVs – too small to defeat with CIWS or other weapons systems – might swarm an Aegis combatant, each spraying a tiny amount of radar absorbent paint on the SPY array, achieving a mission kill of the most powerful air and missile defense system in the world. 

Of course, these sorts of aerial swarms might be vulnerable to jamming, EMP, and the like, but here, LT Matt Hipple offers some recommendations to build resiliency into drone swarms.  The rapid evolution of drone swarm technology can be expected to continue until concepts like these are deployed operationally; likely sometime in the next decade.

This article was re-posted by permission from NavalDrones.com

Wrapping Up Sea-based Nation Week

New international law: an EEZ 5 hexagons wide

 

I started out the week with a few of my own thoughts and an interview with Randy Hencken, Executive Director of the Seasteading Institute, who was gracious enough to reach out and participate in our discussion.

 

In “From Jules Verne to Sir Julian Corbett” Viribus Unitis provided a worse-case scenario for rogue sea-based nations, and along with LT AJ Kruppa’s “Sea-based Nation Security” delved into the issues of warfare and maritime security among city-state platforms.  LT Kurt Albaugh took a similar tack and pondered the potential use of sea city-states as Afloat Forward Staging Bases and launching pads for military operations in “Bridging the Moat.”

 

Ian Sundstrom examined the question of “Who Would Benefit Most from Seasteading?” – particularly the numbers behind the hope proposing replacing low-lying islands threatened by climate change.  In “Ice-basing the Arctic,” LT Allen Tweedie questioned whether seasteads could harness the new round of excitement over trade routes and minerals in the Arctic Circle.  Meanwhile, LTJG Matt Hipple imagined a future of seasteads at the forefront of mineral claim-stakers in “Seasteaders: Mining the Sea, Mining the Future.”

 

Exploring the source and models of sovereignty also featured prominently in CDR Doyle Hodge’s “Sea-based Nations and Sovereignty,” Matt Hipple’s “SeaUnsteady: Personal Sovereignty” and Susanne Tempelhof’s “Why the U.S. Should Embrace Seasteading.”  This segued into discussions on the nature of citizenship and government in the last two articles –where seasteaders particularly hope to inspire new lines of thinking.

 

A few final thoughts:

 

International Law:

One common issue posters grappled with was the applicability of international law to the concept of seasteads.  As it stands, international law in the form of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) throws up many road blocks for seasteads and sea-based nations.

 

Ian Sundstrom pointed out that UNCLOS doesn’t grant man-made structures their own EEZs, reducing the resource incentives for a seastead to transition from a flagged vessel to a micro-nation; LTJG Hipple noted UNCLOS has established rules for the mining the deep-sea bed in international waters; and, multiple posters discussed both the necessity of flagging a seastead as a vessel (if only for their own protection) and the restrictive effects of existing states’ territorial waters, contingency zones, and EEZs on placing a new sea-based nation.  

 

All this illustrates the importance and real impact international law can have on maritime security and the health of a nation’s economy.  It also suggests the benefits to be gained by influencing international law to one’s own advantage – as Randy Henrickson himself pointed out.  This is something done through enforcement of international customary law, for example freedom of navigation transits through international straits, or by having a seat at the table when negotiating the terms of treaties or helping to enforce, interpret, or implement them.  True, a nation (even a sea-based nation) can violate the rules, but there are courts and international mechanisms which can make it very painful on the pocket-book to do so (whether or not a signatory), through negative trade rulings, banking sanctions, or exclusion from certain markets.  In short, those hoping to seastead or create a sea-based nation have a lot of work to do not only in creating new experiments in government, but in changing or gaining acceptance for new international norms.

 

A conveninent flag but a risky defense

Flagging:

The preferable flag for seasteads will vary based both on their location and their future intent.  Those seeking to eventually declare themselves a fully fledged micro-nation would do well to choose a flag of convenience.  While flags of convenience provide only the bare minimum of legal security against other states and criminal enterprise, they do promise minimal interference both in the short-term and the day when a seastead attempts to gain acceptance as a micro-state.  The navies and coercive powers of Panama and Liberia are, sorry to say, not particularly fearsome.  Additionally, the lack of security provisions of the flag state can be balanced by recourse to the legal systems (and militaries) of the seatead’s own citizens – at least until they become members of their new micro-nation.   

 

For those seeking to create a seastead near the EEZ of another nation, there are a couple options, each with its own advantage, if autonomy short of independence is acceptable. First, the seastead could seek the flag of the major port – this would greatly lower the cost of doing business with what will likely be the seastead’s major trading partner and critical logistical support hub.  Second, the seastead could seek the flag of a “champion powerful enough to coerce non-interference,” as CDR Hodges put it.  This could be a nation looking for a major trading hub, a nation looking for a military foothold in the region, or some combination of the two.

 

Sovereignty and Resources:

No matter what route seasteads take to attempt the transition to micro-nations or harness the resources of international waters, the difficulties they will face are daunting – but not insurmountable.  

 

A clear mechanism for the transition to micro-nation would be preferable.  Perhaps with minimum qualifications such as self-sufficiency, a written constitution, a minimum population level (and a hefty “application fee”).  Whether or not the sea-based nation was mobile would also factor in, with a permanent residence likely gaining greater acceptance.  A successful qualification could be awarded territorial waters an EEZ, and a zone in which it can mine the deep sea bed.  These distances could be specifically delineated on a case-by-case just as the 200nm EEZ was created out of whole cloth.  A sea-based micro-nation could be its own form of sovereignty with its own legal conditions rooted in international law.  Here I turn the question to you – what other sorts of qualifications do you think should be applied?

 

In reality we are likely to see more muddled development, with some seasteads gaining recognition by one set of nations, and others another.  The aforementioned powerful champions will likely aid those with cultural ties, hold out the promise of co-developing resources, or offer a military or economic foothold as described above – presenting seasteads with the trick of charting their course to true sovereignty in a sea full of sharks (but such is the case of diplomacy everywhere).

 

“I was promised a cabin with an ocean view!”

Security:

Lastly, seasteads may also experiment with what are really old models of armed forces, by requiring all hands or all citizens to be ready to defend themselves against attack (see picture), they may require new citizens to spend a spell in dedication to the nation (universal conscription), or they may just hire out mercenaries. The size, economic-base, wealth, technological level, form of government, and relative security will all play a role in determining the form of the armed forces.  

 

It’s also important to remember that not every seastead or sea-based nation will be floating, but many will, and that will make them particularly vulnerable to any sort of attack.  The morality of bombing/torpedoing such a target might be equated to sinking dual-use ocean liners and might force the type of hybrid maritime/urban warfare Viribus Unitis discussed – especially if the sea-based nation develops few offensive or stand-off weapons to justify an initial bombardment.  

 

 

We may hear more about sea-based nations in the future, with another interview or two in the works. And for those of you in the DC area, don’t forget our meet-up Wednesday, from 6-10pm at District Pi Pizza, where you’ll have a chance to meet a few of the posters and discuss in person the writing. We’ll also have an informal poll from the week for the Best Written, Most Original Thought, and Most Persuasive pieces.

Conning the Constitution

By Chris Peters

When I reached Charlestown Navy Yard on August 19, 2012, it seemed like a perfect morning to be underway in the harbor:  clear skies, a forecast high in the mid-70s, and the ship going to sea was USS Constitution, set to sail on her own power for the second time in 131 years.  Reporting as her conning officer was certainly the last thing I ever expected to do. 

Constitution goes out to sea in Boston Harbor, August, 2012

Six months earlier, Commander Matthew Bonner, Constitution’s 72nd commanding officer, asked if I’d be up for the job.  Boston NROTC, where I teach navigation and naval operations to midshipmen, has a long standing relationship with Constitution.  With only an Executive Officer and Operations Officer, the wardroom would be fully stretched that day.  I was understandably more than happy to help out. 

Once onboard, I surveyed the area where the navigation team and I would be working.  The harbor chart was laid out on a folding table in front of the ship’s proud 10-spoke wooden helm about three quarters of the way aft.  Navigation equipment was rather limited; a magnetic compass on each side of the ship’s wheel was the only permanently installed equipment.  Technicians from Naval Sea Systems Command, onboard to monitor the stability of the ship, had also installed a digital reader for course and speed. 

As the underway time of 1000 neared, the ship was buzzing with activity.  Constitution’s normal crew is around just over 50, but they had assistance from 150 Chief Petty Officer-Selects temporarily assigned for a two-week CPO heritage program.  Also onboard were several former Constitution commanding officers, Medal of Honor recipient Captain Tom Hudner (Ret.), three flag officers, and the British Consul General.  With the crew taking in the last line and casting us into the harbor, I could feel the shared excitement as we began our historic cruise. 

There was no conning to be done, initially.  One primary tug boat and a backup were towing the ship approximately three miles to a predetermined “sail box” just past the channel entrance where we would have up to a mile to maneuver with sufficient separation from shoal water.  Despite not having active control of the ship, two Quartermasters laid regular fixes from a handheld GPS receiver. 

Once in the channel, Commander Bonner and the British Consul General laid a wreath overboard to honor the 7 American and 15 British sailors who died in the fierce battle between Constitution and HMS Guerriere 200 years ago that day.  Constitution’s vanquishing of the British frigate was a milestone victory for the early U.S. Navy and also the occasion where the ship earned her famous “Old Ironsides” moniker. 

Summer weekends are popular times for pleasure boaters in Boston Harbor, and that Sunday was no exception.  Hundreds of boats were out in the harbor to catch a glimpse of America’s ship of state, with many trying to follow along for the whole cruise.  Fortunately, the Massachusetts State Police, Boston Police, Massachusetts Environmental Police, and U.S. Coast Guard provided escort and protection with a sizable exclusion zone around Constitution.

The two-hour trip to the sail box flew by.  Before I knew it, our two tugs were turning us around between Deer Island and Long Island and into position.  Around this time our “sail master,” a First Class Boatswains Mate, began barking commands to a hybrid team of Constitution crew and CPO-selects.  In well-rehearsed sequence and with dozens of Sailors on various lines, the crew raised Constitution’s three main sails.  The world’s oldest commissioned warship was coming to life. 

It was almost game time for me and my helmsman, a First Class Sonar Technician.  We reviewed what we learned the prior Friday during steering checks:  maximum rudder in either direction is 20 degrees, one full turn of the wheel is 10 degrees, therefore each of the wheel’s 10 spokes represents one degree of rudder.  There was no rudder angle indicator like one typically finds on ships.  Instead, a black marking on the line wrapped around the wheel moves forward and aft relative four rows of line on either side as the wheel turns. 

The Quartermaster recommended course 260T to return us to the western end of the sail box and back into the channel.  To verify we were on that heading, I called over to the still-connected tug’s captain.  Constitution’s two magnetic compasses fluctuated during the transit and now displayed conflicting headings, and since we were still dead in the water, our digital course repeater was unable to help.  After verifying that we were on the correct heading, I was ready to go.

“Conn, tug’s cast off!”  the Captain yelled to me, and with a “Rudder amidships,” we were off and sailing.  The entire crew, who had worked so hard and waited so long for this special moment, erupted in spontaneous applause as the tugs moved away and took ready station off our quarters.  I can recall the surreal feeling of looking to my left and right seeing no tugs and knowing that I was playing a small part in navigating this almost sacred warship, and would remember it for the rest of my life. 

I allowed myself only a brief period to soak in the moment and then kept my focus on driving the ship.  Although we were laying frequent fixes, I relied on input from the Captain, who had climbed partway up the ship’s rigging for a better view.  Standing by the helm, one has only a limited view of what is actually ahead of the ship.  As we intended to maintain course, only minor rudder adjustments were required. 

USS Constitution handled very surely.  At roughly two knots speed over ground, we pressed ahead.  Our speed, while slow, impressed everyone onboard since we had a tail wind of just about three knots.  That was just enough to fill our sails and keep Joshua Humphrey’s brilliantly designed ship moving ahead.  News helicopters circled overhead and hundreds of boaters kept up with what must have been a majestic sight.  The last time Constitution was underway on sail power was 1997, and prior to that was 1881. 

USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere have at it in 1812.

Seventeen minutes later, our brief sail into history came to an end.  The tug returned, the crew partly lowered the sails, and Constitution was no longer under our direction.  It felt like no time at all, but I relished every second.  It was a great feeling to shake hands with the helmsman and quartermasters as we shared congratulations and absorbed up what we had just done. 

We were not finished yet, though, as the return to Charlestown was still ahead and Constitution still had one more show to put on.  The tug brought us to a stop just north of Fort Independence at Castle Island, where thousands (including my mom) had assembled for a view.  The crew came to attention, and with a thunderous “boom” a 21-gun salute commenced.   Dozens of surrounding boats answered with their whistles and the harbor was alive with enthusiasm.  Afterwards, in an unscripted moment, the Chief-selects broke out in “Anchors Aweigh,” soon joined by the whole crew.  We sang so loudly that the crowd on shore could hear, I later learned, and they loved it. 

LT Chris Peters, after the wardroom meal of hard tacks and salted beef.

Around an hour later, a small crowd welcomed Constitution back to the Navy Yard, and we moored where we had started roughly four hours earlier.  Knowing that the day’s events were almost certainly something I would never take part in again, I took time to reflect before disembarking.  I thought of naval heroes like Edward Preble and Stephen Decatur who walked Constitution’s decks two centuries before.  Considering their bravery, courage, and the impact they and USS Constitution had on our early Navy and the country, I was incredibly humbled to feel so connected to their history.  I also thought of the professional, passionate Constitution sailors I met that day.  Those impressive men and women are heirs to and representations of our proud past.  On August 19, 1812, USS Constitution’s iron-like live oak hull repelled British cannon fire, but it was the courage and resilience of the American Sailor that won the day and continues to keep our Navy strong. 

LT Chris Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy and an instructor at Boston University. 

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. 

 Featured Image: BOSTON (Oct. 22, 2021) USS Constitution is underway during Chief Petty Officer Heritage Weeks. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alec Kramer/Released)

Seasteaders: Mining the Sea, Mining the Future

Biomining the Sea
Seasteads are intended to be entrepot that trade in the capitol of the mind: new ideas, technologies, and management styles both public and private. Scarcity is the mother of invention, and on platforms with no natural resources, innovation and expertise are the only tradable commodity… but that will not be the case for long.

Innovations in the field of biotechnology are leading to the more efficient use of microorganisms to leach minerals straight from the sea as a byproduct of fresh-water production. I discussed biomining as a tool for commanders attempting to use battlefield refuse for 3D printing, but on a larger scale it produces a duel-win scenario for Seasteads looking for a supply of both water and profits to support their sea-borne society. While many nations have claims to the vast mineral wealth of the sea-floor, none lay claim to the water-borne mineral content of the high seas. UNCLOS does state in general terms the wealth of the sea being for all people’s, but such stipulations would be too vague to implement if even the institutions existed to enforce them. The minerals of the sea are an open resource, without claim or contract, to be claimed by seasteaders.

G’Day Shipmate
This brings to mind a society that may look very much like our friends, the Australians. Australia is an innovation hub, most recently producing the first single-atom transistor. This is the primary vision of today’s Seasteaders. Australia is also blessed with with abundant resources. The Australian mining industry is booming supported by the hardy entrepreneurial spirit of prospective miners. There is a hearty internal migration of workers out to isolated mining camps to make their fortune. However, most Seasteads will not be glorified roaming country clubs supported by the existent wealth of their monied passengers; they’ll be commercial experiments. No matter how advanced, they will be constrained and distant places like the FIFO camps of Australia. With sea mining, however, Seasteads can add the mineral wealth of the sea around them to the income from the advances developed onboard.

Glimpses of the Future
Seasteading will lead to a bevy of new technologies driven by self-sustainment and efficiency. From mining the sea to water production to electricity generation and retention to recycling. All these developments inadvertantly make Seasteading a model for future space travel. Although under far friendlier circumstances than a cold, radiation-bombareded death vacuum, the efficiencies found by communities living at sea will no doubt find application to our future missions in space. The same bio-mining procedures for the sea could be used on far-off bodies where it is easier to bring a small culture of microorganisims that can be grown to necessary size, rather than the bulky equipment necessary to process ore. As the conventional modes of business are overturned in an attempt to colonize new portions of our own planet, we will be preparing ourselves to colonize others.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.