All posts by NavalDrones

New UUV Mothership Hits the Fleet: The Coastal Command Boat

CCB3The U.S. Navy recently introduced the new 65-foot Coastal Command Boat (65PB1101, or CCB) into the fleet.  Among other maritime security missions, the CCB will test new concepts in employing unmanned underwater vehicles.  The one-of-a-kind vessel was developed following a 2008 Congressional earmark for $5 million.  After a transit from its building location in Bremerton, the SAFE Boat-manufactured CCB arrived in Coronado, California in August, where it been assigned to Coastal Riverine Group 1 (CRG-1).  The CCB is a preview of the Navy’s upcoming 85-foot Mark VI patrol boats, six of which have been planned for delivery in FY13/14.

The boat has been configured to operate the MK 18 Mod 2 Kingfish UUV for mine counter-measures operations.  Two of the 800-pound, 12-inch diameter UUVs sit in cradles on the stern of the CCB and are launched with the boat’s hydraulic crane.  The Navy is considering deploying the CCB to the Middle East for operational testing sometime in the next year.  Operating up to day-long missions from a shore base or even the well deck of a larger amphibious mothership, the CCB and MK VI PBs will deploy multiple mine-hunting UUVs. 

The Navy has also tested the man-portable SeaFox mine neutralizer from rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs).  If equipped with SeaFox, the CCB and MK VI could not only find, but clear, detected mines, a capability that today is conducted with much larger dedicated mine countermeasures ships.

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

Unmanned Naval Helicopters Take Off in 2013

Manned (SH-60B) and unmanned (MQ-8B) helicopters working together on USS Halyburton (FFG 40)
Manned (SH-60B) and unmanned (MQ-8B) helicopters working together on USS Halyburton (FFG 40)

The carrier take-off and arrested landings of the U.S. Navy’s X-47B demonstrator have garnered significant press attention this year.  Less noticed however, is the rapid development of rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicles in the world’s navies.  Recent operational successes of Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8B Fire Scout aboard U.S. Navy frigates have led to many countries recognizing the value of vertical take-off and landing UAVs for maritime use.

International navies see the versatility and cost savings that unmanned rotary wing platforms can bring to maritime operations.  Like their manned counter-parts, these UAVs conduct a variety of missions including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); cargo resupply/vertical replenishment; and in some future conflict will perform armed interdiction at sea.  However, unlike the two- or three-hour endurance of manned helicopter missions, some of these UAVs can fly 12-hour sorties or longer.  Other benefits include the ability for some models to land on smaller decks than manned aircraft, a much lower cost per flying hour, and importantly, limited risk to human aviators.  Several international VTOL UAV projects have been recently unveiled or are under development, many of them based on proven light manned helicopter designs.  Starting with a known helicopter design reduces cost and technical risks and allows navies to pilot the aircraft in no-fail situations involving human passengers such as medical evacuations.

Poland has two designs in the works, the optionally manned SW-4 SOLO and the smaller composite ILX-27, which will carry up to 300 kg in external armament.  In July, the Spanish Navy announced  a contract with Saab to deploy the Skeldar V-200 unmanned air system aboard its ships for counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.

Russia’s Berkut Aero design bureau, in collaboration with the United Arab Emirate’s Adcom Systems have announced plans to develop an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) based on Russia’s two-seat coaxial Berkut VL helicopter.

One of Schiebel’s rapidly proliferating S-100s mysteriously crashed in al-Shabaab-held Southern Somalia earlier this year, but in a successful turn-around, Camcopter S-100 conducted at-sea trials with a Russian Icebreaker in the Arctic later this summer.

Back on the American front, in July, Northrop Grumman delivered the Navy’s first improved MQ-8C, a platform largely driven by U.S. Special Operations Command’s requirements for a longer endurance ship-launched aircraft capable of carrying heavier payloads including armament.  The Marine Corps’ operational experimentation in Afghanistan with two of Lockheed Martin/Kaman’s K-MAX unmanned cargo-resupply helicopters from 2011 until earlier this year was largely successful, but suspended in June when one of the aircraft crashed while delivering supplies to Camp Leatherneck in autonomous mode.  Because of this setback, Lockheed has improved K-MAX’s autonomous capabilities, and added a high-definition video feed to provide the operator greater situational awareness.  Kaman has also begun to market the aircraft to foreign buyers.  Finally, a Navy Research Laboratory platform, the SA-400 Jackal, took its first flight this summer.

There are minimal barriers to VTOL UAVs wider introduction into the world’s naval fleets over the next few years.  How much longer will it take for their numbers to exceed manned helicopters at sea?

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

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.

Drones for Maritime Activisim

 

Phase 1: Stop illegal driftnet fishing in the Med. Phase 2: Keep those pesky children out of my flowerbeds.
First we stop driftnet fishing in the Med, then we get those pesky children out of my flowerbeds.

The Black Fish is a non-governmental organization (NGO) “working for the oceans that has integrated the use of unmanned air vehicles in support of its marine wildlife protection operations.  Blackfish’s UAS were provided by Laurens De Groot’s organization ShadowView, which supplies UAVs to non-profits for conservation projects.  The group flew initial demonstration sorties with a quad-rotor over a harbor and is looking to improve their UAS capabilities to fly longer-range missions over the open water in an effort to expose illegal driftnet fishing in the Mediterranean
 
The Black Fish joins the ranks of a growing number of NGOs using drones for maritime activism, specifically UAVs for surveillance operations, including Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Earthrace Conservation, and Greenpeace.

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