Category Archives: New Initiatives

New projects and initiatives at CIMSEC.

Athena Project San Diego Innovation Jam Roundup

This piece was originally published by the Athena Project. It is republished here with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Dave Nobles

Wednesday’s Innovation Jam onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2) was an important and monumental moment for Naval Innovation.

The event was sponsored by a number of organizations, including Commander Pacific Fleet, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The support of such senior leadership for Deckplate Innovation made the event a resounding success, demonstrated in spades through awarding not one but two Sailors $100,000 to fund their concepts through prototyping and transition.

That’s the important part. Ideas born out of frustration, perseverance, and a quest to make the Navy better have been funded. However, the significance of the Innovation Jam is beyond the funding.

During the Innovation Jam, the assembled crowd of Sailors and government civilians listened to senior uniformed leadership within the Navy, like the Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift; The Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Readiness and Logistics, Vice Admiral Phil Cullom and the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens. The three military speakers kicked off the event with a volley of support for The Athena Project, Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG), The Hatch, The Bridge, and other efforts to bring about positive change.  Each message resonated with the entrepreneurial and intraprenurial philosophies.

The voices of those senior leaders, combined with civilian thought leaders such as Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, the first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Microsoft and founder of Intellectual Ventures and Dr. Maura Sullivan, the Department of the Navy’s Chief of Strategy and Innovation, all echoed the a consistent theme:

Innovation is about taking risks.

The sponsorship, collaborative support and allocation of resources serves as a beacon of thoughtful risk taking by senior leadership in the Navy. And, funding two Sailor concepts serves as inspiration to empower all Sailors at all levels to share their own ideas and as a clear signal from the Navy’s top brass that they’re not only listening but that they’re also ready to act.

Sailors and engineers work together to reframe their concepts during athenaTHINK at SSC Pacific.

Over two days in San Diego, six Sailors who presented ideas through innovation initiatives such as The Athena Project, TANG, and The Hatch, were given the opportunity to interface with scientists and engineers at SSC Pacific and ONR to reframe and refine their concepts at an athenaTHINK event before presenting their ideas at the Innovation Jam to a panel of experts, who would decide a winner.

On the panel Dr. Myhrvold and Dr. Sullivan were joined by Dr. Stephen Russell of SSC Pacific, Mr. Scott DiLisio of OPNAV N4, Dr. Robert Smith of ONR, Mr. Arman Hovakemian of Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Corona Division, ETCM Gary Burghart of SSC Pacific and the Commanding Officer of the host ship, USS ESSEX, CAPT Brian Quin.

The panelists evaluating the pitches onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2).

The panel heard the six pitches and, after deliberation, Dr. Russell announced the results:

First Place: LTJG Rob McClenning, USS GRIDLEY (DDG 101)

LTJG McClenning and Dr. Russell.

LTJG McClenning presented his concept which he originally pitched at Athena West 3.0 called the Unified Gunnery System (UGS). The system would provide ballistic helmets equipped with augmented reality visors to the Sailors manning machine guns topside on a warship, and command and control via tablet in the pilot house. Commands given on the touch screen would provide indications to the gunners displaying orders, bearing lines and more. The system would be wired to prevent cyber attacks. The augmented reality capability of the system would mitigate potential catastrophic results of misheard orders due to the loud fire of the guns, and improve accuracy and situational awareness. LTJG McClenning received $500 for his concept, and $100K to develop the idea in collaboration with SSC Pacific.

Second Place: LT Bill Hughes, OPNAV N96

LT Hughes and Dr. Russell.

LT Hughes flew in from Washington, DC to pitch his concept, also from Athena West 3.0. The idea, CosmoGator, aims to automate celestial navigation through installed, gyro-stabilized camera mounts and small-scale atomic clocks to provide redundant Position, Navigation and Timing data to shipboard navigation and weapons systems. LT Hughes’ concept would continually update inertial navigation systems to enable continued operations in the event of GPS denial. Previously, this concept had been explored by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. LT Hughes received $300 and in a surprise move, OPNAV N4 funded his idea with $100K as well.

Third Place: GMC Kyle Zimmerman, Afloat Training Group Middle Pacific

GMC Zimmerman’s concept, originally presented at Athena West 4.0, intends to bring virtual reality to the Combat Information Center. Through the use of commercially available headsets, GMC Zimmerman proposed streaming a live optical feed of a ship’s operating environment to watchstanders to increase situational awareness and provide increased capability in responding to casualties such as Search and Rescue. GMZ Zimmerman received $200 for his idea.

Honorable Mention: LCDR Bobby Hsu, Commander, Task Force 34

LCDR Hsu pitched an idea from Theater Anti-Submarine Warfare (TASW) TANG for a consolidated information database for the litany of data required to effectively manage the TASW mission. The concept, Automated Response for Theater Information or ARTI, would leverage voice recognition software like the kind found in the Amazon Echo or Apple’s Siri, to enable watchstanders and commanders alike rapid access to critical information.

Honorable Mention: LT Clay Greunke, SSC Pacific

LT Greunke presented a concept that he began developing during his time at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and pitched at Athena West 9.0. His concept leverages virtual reality to more effectively train Landing Signals Officers (LSO) by recreating the simulator experience of an entire building in a laptop and Oculus headset. LT Greunke demonstrated his prototype for the panelists and described a vision for the LSO VR Trainer, called ‘SEA FOG,’ as the first piece of an architecture of virtual reality tools to improve training in a number of communities and services.

Honorable Mention: OSC Erik Rick, Naval Beach Group ONE

OSC Rick first presented his idea for a combined site to host all required computer based training on The Hatch, though he acknowledged that the concept had been a highly visible entry on The Hatch, as well as in previous crowd-sourcing initiatives such as Reducing Administrative Distractions (RAD), BrightWork and MilSuite. His concept is to make universal access tags for civilians, reserve and active duty personnel to enable easy tracking of completed training as well as required training. In his proposal, the host site would combine the requirements of the numerous sites currently hosting training requirements and deliver an App Store-like interface to simplify the experience for users.

All of our presenters and panelists. America.

Not enough can be said for the courage that all of the presenters demonstrated to take the stage in an nerve-wracking setting and present their ideas. In another good news story, the panelists and the assembled crowd provided feedback to all the presenters, which will assist in the further development of all six concepts.

With the success of the Innovation Jam in the rear view mirror, the process now begins to build on the ideas that received funding. We’ll continue to provide updates of the future successes of the two funded concepts right here on the blog.

This milestone for Naval Innovation is nothing short of monumental. Many can relate to a near exhaustion with the rhetoric surrounding innovation: Agility, fast failure, big ideas, consolidating disparate efforts, getting technology to the warfighters, and certainly partnering partnerships with non-traditional players.  When actions are weighed against rhetoric, it is action that wins, taking the initiative, assuming the initiative to act and moving the needle. And Wednesday, we saw that happen.

This inaugural Innovation Jam will not be a one-time thing. As stated by VADM Cullom in his Keynote Address the event will be coming to every fleet concentration area in the future. Here at The Athena Project, we’ll continue to push initiatives like the Innovation Jam to inspire the creative confidence to present ideas and aid in any way possible to turn concepts into reality.

And, for those wondering how they might get involved in an events like this, support your local Athena chapter, submit your ideas to The Hatch and participate in workshops like TANG! Participation in these, and any innovation initiative will make you eligible for your regional Innovation Jam!

The future looks bright indeed not only for innovation but for action.

And we’re damn proud to be a part of that.

Dave Nobles is a member of the Design Thinking Corps at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the founder of The Athena Project. He is also a Navy Reservist with the Office of Naval Research.

Featured Image: September’s Athena East Event at Old Dominion University.

Members’ Roundup: March 2016 Part One

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to part one of the March 2016 members’ roundup. Over the past month CIMSEC members have examined several international maritime security issues, including an increase in Russian naval activities and deployments, recent U.S. naval exercises demonstrating the Fleets’ application of the distributed lethality concept, laser technologies and the U.S. defense acquisition program and as usual, the increasingly tense security environment in the Asia-Pacific.  

Paul Pryce begins the roundup in the Asia-Pacific with a discussion, on what he refers to as, the new era in Singaporean defense procurement. In his article at Offiziere, Mr. Pryce highlights that previous procurement strategies for the country’s Navy have focused on acquiring mainly European designed vessels, either built specifically for Singapore or purchased following a short period of service in the initial European country. However, the planned construction of eight indigenous Independence-class littoral mission vessels beginning in 2016 and the expected procurement of a domestically built light aircraft carrier through 2021 suggests that the Singapore’s shipbuilding capacity and overall maritime force projection capabilities are becoming increasingly strengthened – a significant implication for Singapore’s role in South East Asian security dynamics.

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Alex Calvo, for Asian Military Review, discusses the challenge Taiwan faces in securing a replacement for its four aged hunter-killer submarines (SSKs), two of which are vintage Tench-class World War II boats while the other two were commissioned in the Netherlands in 1987 and 1988. Mr. Calvo explains how Europe has become reluctant to support Taiwanese military procurement needs for fear of angering China while the United States no longer produces SSKs. He suggests that Taiwan may look to Japan as an alternative source for its SSK replacement largely due to recent efforts by the Japanese shipbuilding industry to win the contract for the Royal Australian Navy’s SSK procurement requirements while also noting a lack of other feasible alternatives.

Kyle Mizokami, for Popular Mechanics, discusses China’s plans to establish aircraft carrier battle groups tasked with defense of the country’s territorial sovereignty, maritime rights and overseas interests both regionally and perhaps globally. Mr. Mizokami highlights the nature of China’s first operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, as he explains its training role and limited capacity to carry large numbers of combat capable aircraft. However, he also notes that China has confirmed the construction of the Dalian carrier, which will have more hangar space for support and combat aircraft – but will still only displace about 50 000 tons, or half that of a modern U.S. carrier.

Leaving the Asia-Pacific, Dave Majumdar outlines the implications of Russia’s planned massive live-fire nuclear exercise being conducted by two Project 955 Borei-class ballistic missile submarines deployed with the Northern Fleet. In his article at The National Interest, Mr. Majumdar explains how one of the missile boats will sequentially launch all sixteen of its RSM-56 Bulava missiles at a depth of 164ft while highlighting that such an exercise, whether a U.S. or Russian ballistic missile boat, would only launch their entire payload in conflict as part of full-scale retaliatory or offensive nuclear strike. In a second article at The National Interest, Mr. Majumdar discusses the spotting of a Russian Project 667 BDRM Delfin-class ballistic missile submarine near French territorial waters – the boat carries sixteen missiles capable of carrying four nuclear warheads each with a range of 7500 miles.

Bryan McGrath, for the War on the Rocks, provides the ‘First Principles’ that will help guide the difficult task of structuring the U.S. Navy’s future fleet. Mr. McGrath emphasizes that the Navy must be sized and shaped into a fleet that allows for both combat-credible and presence forces to be positioned globally in a manner that secures national interests while effectively deterring major power conflict. He also mentions the implementation of the distributed lethality concept, where individual platform lethality is increased even as the force becomes geographically dispersed. On this point, Mr. McGrath argues that an individual combat capacity increase should not compel policy makers to reduce the size of the fleet, as one does not necessarily balance the others strategic importance. On the same topic at The National Interest, Dave Majumdar describes a recent test of the SM-6 missile where it was revealed that the system now retains effective anti-surface capability, a major step for distributed lethality implementation across the fleet.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the first part of March:

CIMSEC has also recently (February) published a compendium discussing a range of strategies, challenges and policy options concerning Distributed Lethality. You can find a download link for all of the articles here.

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies and defense policy and management.

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Members’ Roundup: February Part Two

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to part two of the February 2016 members’ roundup. Over the past month CIMSEC members have examined several international maritime security issues, including a rapid increase in naval modernization in the Indian Ocean, China’s recent South China Sea military deployments, challenges within the U.S. defense acquisition program and the evolving China-Taiwan political and security relationship in East Asia.

Beginning the roundup at Popular Mechanics, Kyle Mizokami discusses the U.S. Navy’s interests in the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) and the importance of acquiring the weapon system quickly. Mr. Mizokami explains that the increasing threat of modernized surface fleets with advanced weapon systems, particularly from Russia and China, requires the U.S. Navy to deploy a weapon more capable than the current U.S. Anti-Ship Missile (ASM) – the Harpoon missile. He also outlines technical features of the missile, including its use of Artificial Intelligence, data links, an ability to avoid static threats by use of fluid way points and the platforms that can deploy the weapon system – currently the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, F-35C, B1 and the U.S. Navy’s standardized Mk.41 Missile Silo.

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Bryan Clark, for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, explains that the U.S. Military’s defense requirements need to be balanced with realistic and appropriate budgets and schedules. He highlights that since 1970 major DoD Defense Acquisition Programs have increased in cost from 20-60 percent while new weapon systems are on average fielded 20 percent later than originally planned. Mr. Clark suggests that eliminating overly ambitious requirements for new capabilities is key to reducing acquisition malpractice while the limitations of competition within the defense industry need to be understood to allow for DoD’s buying power to improve.

Entering the Asia-Pacific, Harry Kazianis for The National Interest explains that Washington’s FONOPs in the South China Sea are not intended to halt Chinese dominance in the region, but rather to defend freedom of navigation and maritime legal principles. Mr. Kazianis highlights that regardless of the intent of the operations, China has remained firm on its artificial island construction and militarization in addition to strengthening its security apparatus in the region. This has been evident with the deployment of the HQ-9 air-defense system atop the newly constructed islands and the drastic increase in PLA-N deployments in the region. In a second article at The National Interest, Mr. Kazianis identifies the possibility that China may deploy several of its 24 recently purchased Russian Su-35 fighters to the airfields that have been constructed on these same islands.

Lauren Dickey, for The Council on Foreign Relations, provides the perspective that China’s recent deployment of surface-to-air missile launchers and radar systems to the contested Woody Island not only represents China’s ambitions for challenging U.S. regional presence but also to forward a broader agenda of modernizing the capabilities of the PLA. Ms. Dickey also highlights President Xi’s planned reforms for the PLA likely to result in a leaner, stronger fighting force, an enhanced power projection capability and an increased ability to deter threats along the country’s periphery.

Michal Thim, for The Diplomat, discusses the recent meeting between foreign affairs officials from both the Chinese and Taiwanese government. Mr. Thim explains that these representatives have met before in other unofficial non-governmental forums, but this meeting represents the first time in six decades that officials from the two governments have met in their official capacities. He also notes that although this meeting may reflect a positive change in the dynamic of China-Taiwan relations, significant security tensions still exist between the two countries with the Taiwan Strait missile crisis still fresh in-mind and current Chinese missile deployments near the Taiwan theatre threatening Taiwanese regional defense posture.

To conclude the roundup, Vijay Sakhuja for Nikkei Asian Review discusses the high-tech naval buildup in the Indian Ocean from a regional perspective, focusing on India, Pakistan, Iran, South Africa, Australia and Indonesia. Mr. Sakhuja notes that these powers have been supporting diplomatic multilateral institutions, such as the Indian Rim Association and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, to jointly address piracy concerns and to train for potential mine countermeasure operations.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the second part of February:

  • Shawn VanDiver, for Task and Purpose, discusses the threat climate change poses to U.S. National Security, noting its destabilizing effects in hotspot regions and its resulting security implications for nearby deployed personnel. He also explains how climate change poses a direct threat to the homeland, with increasing sea levels, larger wild fires, longer and more frequent droughts and heating-cooling strains on the domestic power grid.
  • Robert Farley, for The National Interest, provides an analysis on a recent RAND wargame exercise that demonstrated NATO’s inability to prevent Russian forces from occupying the Baltic States if it relied only on conventional forces currently available. However, Mr. Farley highlights that NATO’s primary deterrent is not necessarily its ability to counter any initial attack, rather to escalate any notional conflict beyond the parameters of Russian tactical abilities or political will.
  • Ankit Panda, for The Diplomat, discusses China’s Ministry of Defense statement that construction on support facilities for the PLA-N in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, has begun construction. Mr. Panda highlights that the Chinese government has refrained from calling its Djibouti facility as a ‘naval’ or ‘military’ base. In a second article at The Diplomat, Panda discusses South Korea’s interest in deploying Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile systems in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear and satellite tests.
  • Sam LaGrone, at USNI News, explains how China’s deployment of an advanced high-frequency radar array as part of a wider detection network in the South China Sea may put U.S. stealth aircraft at risk while reducing their operational capacity. In a second article at USNI News, LaGrone discusses comments released by U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) suggesting that the U.S. would ignore a Chinese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
  • Dave Majumdar, for The National Interest, highlights the U.S. Navy’s ‘undersea crisis’ with only 41 attack boats planned to be in active service by 2029 while China plans to have nearly 70. Even more concerning, the article suggests that while Russia and China are both continuing to build the volume of their undersea fleet, Russia has already begun construction on higher-end submarines that pose specific operational issues for the U.S. submarine fleet.

CIMSEC has also recently published a compendium discussing a range of strategies, challenges and policy options concerning Distributed Lethality. You can find a download link for all of the articles here.

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies and defense policy and management.

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February Members’ Roundup Part One

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to part one of the February 2016 members’ roundup. Over the past month CIMSEC members have examined several international maritime security issues, including recent Indian Navy maritime policy developments, aspects of the U.S. Navy’s defense procurement program, components of a notional South China Sea naval conflict between China and the U.S. and capability challenges for the U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).

Beginning the roundup at Offiziere, Darshana Baruah discusses India’s Cold War non-aligned strategy and the implications this strategy has had on India’s maritime security policy in the post-Cold War period. Ms. Baruah explains that India must realize that non-alignment does not equate to non-engagement and that committing to a policy of engagement is critical to manage the complexities of the developing Asian maritime security environment. She references the bilateral MALABAR naval exercises between the U.S. and India as well as the Maritime Security Strategy document released by the Indian government as developments hinting to a changing Indian maritime policy.

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Ankit Panda, at The Diplomat, also discusses India’s maritime strategy with an analysis on potential joint patrol operations in the South China Sea between Indian and U.S. navies. Mr. Panda highlights that there is no indication whether these jointly conducted patrols would reflect recent U.S. FONOPs or less contentious passing patrols, however, he notes that the potential for these patrols to occur reflects a shift in India’s maritime doctrine to ‘act East’. Also at The Diplomat, Mr. Panda explains the conditions and challenges of completing a Boeing-India F/A-18 Super Hornet deal where the Indian Defense Forces would receive an advanced multi-role fighter to supplement its next-generation indigenously built Vikrant-class aircraft carrier and raise the potential for increased technology sharing between the U.S. and India.

Bryan McGrath, at War on the Rocks, discusses the concept of distributed lethality and recent weapons tests and developments that have brought this concept to maturity for the U.S. Navy’s surface force. Mr. McGrath explains how the successful launch of a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) from a U.S. Navy destroyer has now increased the anti-surface warfare combat range of about 90 U.S. cruisers and destroyers currently operating with the Vertical Launch System (VLS) to 1000 miles. Mr. McGrath also identifies the additional capability introduced to the long-range supersonic SM-6 missile, now capable of engaging enemy surface combatants, as a critical development for distributed lethality implementation across the fleet.

Kyle Mizokami, for Popular Mechanics, discusses the planned purchase of 14 F/A-18 Super Hornets as a result of the fighter shortfall in carrier air-wings caused by delays in the Joint Strike Fighter Program. He explains that the delays will also reflect the slow introduction the F-35C will have entering into service within the Navy with only four planes to be purchased in 2017. Mr. Mizokami also outlines surface combatant purchases included in the Navy’s FY2017 budget, highlighting the procuring of two Virginia-class attack submarines and two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers – the destroyers to be equipped with the new Air and Missile Defense Radars that boost the ship’s ballistic missile defense capabilities. Also at Popular Mechanics, Mr. Mizokami provides an analysis on the U.S. Navy’s LCS live fire exercise against an enemy fast-attack swarm that demonstrated potentially serious flaws in the ships design, revealed by combatants entering the ‘keep-out’ range of the ship and technical issues arising throughout the test – albeit the exercise only tested certain weapon and fire control systems.

To conclude the roundup in the Asia-Pacific, Harry Kazianis for The National Interest provides an outline of potential tactics China’s PLA would emphasize during a notional conflict with the U.S. Navy. Mr. Kazianis explains that over the past two decades China has feared the U.S. ability to rapidly deploy naval assets throughout multiple domains in China’s areas of interests largely due to limited PLA capabilities. Mr. Kazianis identifies the employment of large volumes of rudimentary sea-mines and missiles as a simple mechanism for overwhelming U.S. Navy defenses and a feasible strategy to achieve an asymmetric edge over U.S. fleets in theatre.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the first part of February:

  • Chuck Hill, for his Coast Guard Blog, discusses the possibility that the U.S. Army may develop an anti-access/ area-denial (A2AD) strategy along the First Island Chain in the Asia-Pacific and the implications these anti-air and anti-ship systems would have on the Army’s role in U.S. domestic coastal defense. In a second article for his CG Blog, Hill outlines the participants and talking points of a multi-lateral coast guard meeting between the U.S., Japan, Australia and the Philippines.
  • At USNI News, Sam LaGrone discusses the Request for Proposal Naval Air Systems Command is set to release later this year concerning the Carrier Based Refueling System (CBARS) or the unmanned aerial refuelling tanker. Mr. LaGrone explains how the CBARS is a follow-on program that will incorporate many components and systems from the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program (UCLASS).
  • Robert Farley, for The National Interest, provides an analysis on the Zhenbao Island conflict between the Soviet Union and China in 1969 and how the sovereignty dispute nearly escalated to a nuclear confrontation. Mr. Farley explains the avenues of escalation that may have led to Soviet tactical strikes on Chinese nuclear facilities and the implications this would have had on U.S.-NATO-Soviet stability in Europe.
  • James Stavridis, for Nikkei Asian Review, provides five strategies for Pacific-Asian countries that will reduce the potential of an outbreak conflict in the region. Mr. Stavridis suggests that direct military-to-military contact can create a framework of deconfliction procedures thereby reducing escalatory conditions within the region. He also explains how the use of international negotiation platforms to resolve territorial disputes can contribute to a sustainable stability. In an article at The Wall Street Journal, Stavridis highlights the ‘icebreaker gap’ the U.S. has developed with only four large icebreakers to be active by 2020 while Russia will have at least 42. He explains how acquisition processes to close this gap are extremely strained with the current defense budgetary restrictions the government is experiencing.
  • Dave Majumdar, for The National Interest, explains how the next generation of U.S. Navy surface combatants will incorporate digital and information technologies into the core foundations of ship design to allow for time and cost efficient technological upgrades. In a second article at The National Interest, Majumdar highlights the strategy shift that has occurred within the U.S. Navy’s UCLASS approach. The article outlines how the move to CBARS away from the UCLASS ISR and light strike capability will assist the Navy in developing a sophisticated unmanned aviation infrastructure for future carrier operations.

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies and defense policy and management.

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