All posts by NavalDrones

Naval Drone Tech: Countering UUVs

Dolphin with pistol strapped to its head? Your days may be numbered…

As the recent Israeli shootdown of a Hezbollah UAV reminded us, it is relatively easy to destroy an unmanned aircraft.  But what about the proliferating numbers of unmanned undersea vehicles?  The growth in these systems for naval applications will inevitably result in the requirement to  counter an adversary’s underwater drones.  Detection of a small man-made object moving underwater is not trivial, but also becoming easier with the advent of technologies such as high-resolution imaging sonars and Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) systems.

However, once an AUV is detected, how can it be destroyed?  This problem set isn’t new. Mini-subs and combat swimmers have threatened ships in port since World War II.  The old school way of dealing with frogmen is to drop a concussion grenade over the side of a boat.  Alternatively, some navies have experimented with dolphins to counter swimmers.  These sorts of mammal-based systems could conceivably be trained to work against AUVs.  Other advanced technology developments will allow mammals to stay out combat.

Super-cavitating bullets, like those produced by US-based PNW Arms and Norway-based DSG Technology (see video) offer a potential weapon for defeating AUVs.  According to PNW Arms, “supercavitation is the use of cavitation effects to create a bubble of gas inside a liquid large enough to encompass an object traveling through the liquid, which greatly reduces friction drag on the object and enables the achievement of very high speeds.”  DSG Technology’s Multi-Environment Ammunition allows ordnance ranging in size from 4.5 mm through to 155 mm to transit from air to water or vice versa.  Conceivably, AUVs could be detected and engaged from the air.  The U.S. Navy’s AN/AWS-2 Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System (RAMICS) technology demonstrator used a helicopter equipped with a blue-green LIDAR to locate mines near the surface, then a 30 mm super-cavitating round to neutralize them at depths of up to 60 meters.  The program was cancelled in 2011 due to technical and budgetary issues.

Super-cavitating rounds also open up the possibility of hunter-killer unmanned undersea vehicles, guarding a port from other AUVs, mini-subs, and swimmers.  Submariners often remind other sailors that the best ASW weapon is another submarine and the same may be true with AUVs.  However, discriminating between an AUV and a similarly sized fish or marine mammal before pulling the trigger might be difficult without some sort of corroborating data, or image recognition algorithms.

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

Future Naval Drone Power Pt II

Unmanned naval systems are rapidly reaching the limitations of physics with regard to their endurance.  Current internal combustion and electrically powered systems have several drawbacks.  In addition to range/weight issues, liquid fuel engines make for noisy UAVs which can compromise missions in some circumstances, such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.  Electrically-powered UAVs are quiet, but batteries do not approach the energy contained within a similar weight of fossil fuel.  This article clearly explains the physical limitations of current battery technologies.  Modern lithium-ion batteries are problematic due to their propensity to catch fire and explode.  SOCOM’s billion dollar Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS) fire illustrated why navies are not keen on carrying lithium-ion batteries at sea, especially undersea.  Clearly, alternative power technologies are in high demand.

Previously, we highlighted the use of ship-based lasers to power future UAS.  The video below discusses these tests, along with a propane-powered variant.  Planned upcoming flight tests will demonstrate the ability to keep a Stalker Small Tactical UAS aloft using a laser for two to three days.

For long-endurance surface and underwater vehicles where speed is not a mission requirement, wave power and buoyancy-driven gliders are viable alternatives.  Another possibility for powering future autonomous sea-floor crawlers or UUVs is the benthic microbial fuel cell.  Naval drones will require continued innovations in power to allow performance necessary to meet future operational requirements.

    Harnessing the power of the murky deep.

 

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

 

3D Printing/Drone Logistics Mash-up

Last Spring, the guys at CIMSEC wrote a series on how 3-D printing would revolutionize naval logistics. Their vision is much closer to reality than science fiction. The nexus of on-demand fabrication and unmanned vehicles was recently demonstrated in small scale at a venue where one would least expect to see cutting edge military concepts tested. In another example of performance art-turned dual-use UAS military application, at the Burning Man Festival this year, a social entrepreneurship project called Blue Sky allowed visitors to scan an image of themselves, sculpt a miniature likeness of the person with a 3D printer, and deliver it to the consignee with an experimental octo-rotor UAV. Despite challenges with wind, dust, and safety, the proof of concept demonstration was a success.

The ability to print and deliver parts on demand locally and rapidly deliver them to forward operating forces will greatly streamline naval supply chains. Last December, the Marine Corps VMU-1 squadron began logistics deliveries to remote combat outposts in Afghanistan with an unmanned version of the K-Max dual rotor helicopter. A contracted manned K-Max variant had previously flown thousands of logistics missions for U.S. Navy ships during the 1990s. The Marines’ two unmanned K-Max vehicles delivered more than a million pounds of cargo between December and May and have were so successful the trials have been extended until 30 September.

Reprinted with permission from navaldrones.com

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