Sunday, July 12, 2020

Navy, Marine Corps leaders expressed interest in buying futuristic unmanned maritime systems

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The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps leaders have expressed interest in buying a futuristic weaponized unmanned maritime systems during the 2019 Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX).

According to a statement released by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, Navy and Marine Corps witness new Expeditionary Warfare Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) in Action at ANTX Demonstration at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The Navy-industry Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) team – comprised of Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) and Textron Systems scientists and engineers – demonstrated the Expeditionary Warfare USV’s ability to control inshore and littoral areas while identifying and engaging remote targets. NSWCDD unmanned system experts worked with their industry partner under the CRADA to integrate expeditionary warfare payloads they developed and integrated onto Textron’s Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle.

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The Marine Corps general emphasized that the Marines need new capabilities for their concept of operations to work and that they need them quickly.

“We are also interested in showing the Navy that this type of system is available,” said Gripshover. “As unmanned boats are integrated into the force structure, these weapon automation technologies will be critical to their success. We want the Navy to be aware that putting weapons on unmanned boats involves more than bolting them on the deck. The weapons have to be controlled effectively.”

Gripshover and his team of NSWCDD scientists and engineers worked with their industry partner, Textron Systems, under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement to integrate expeditionary warfare payloads they developed and integrated onto the company’s Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle.

“There are certain things you can do with these systems that you will never be able to do with manned vehicles,” said Gripshover regarding the Expeditionary Warfare USV his team created. “These types of systems opens up new ways of fighting as well as new missions. If fully implemented, these unmanned systems could revolutionize the way we fight.”

Specifically, the Expeditionary Warfare USV could transform how the Navy and Marine Corps provide maritime force protection and maneuver with payloads that include a Longbow Hellfire Missile Launcher and a 50 caliber machine gun on a Sea deFNnder Remote Weapon Station.

“Large numbers of these small, weaponized unmanned vehicles for use in distributed maritime operations and littoral operations in a contested environment will saturate the adversaries’ defenses, and can provide protection for the manned vessels,” said Gripshover. “In the long run, these unmanned systems save lives on both sides. It’s better to have machines fighting machines than to have humans fighting humans.”

At one point during ANTX, the Expeditionary Warfare USV autonomously located potential threats in the open ocean off Onslow Beach and at Mile Hammock Bay in Camp Lejuene while its NSWCDD operators made decisions related to engaging those targets. As the ANTX assessors watched the action, they could see how valuable the USV’s ‘leap-ahead’ capabilities would be in protecting Navy and Marine Corps manned high value assets.

The Expeditionary Warfare USV consists of a 40-foot self-driving boat, a HellFire Longbow missile system, and a .50 gun mounted on a remote weapon station. The boat uses radar and video to navigate, find and track surface contacts while providing tactical behaviors such as automated patrol, intercept, and chase. The gun and missile system use video and infrared systems to automatically identify targets, alert the weapon operator, and provide fire control. The system is operated remotely, either from an ashore site or a ship.

“With these autonomous systems and automated weapons, we are trying to automate enough of the kill chain to allow the human-machine team to react fast enough to deal with multiple incoming threats,” Gripshover explained. “We’re not trying to develop weapons where the machine is in control. We are trying to find the right balance – where the human and machine are both doing what they do best. The machine can search autonomously for potential threats and targets while the human can make the decision on those targets and decide when to engage them. ”

The Navy and Marine Corps are currently assessing the results of the ANTX – including the Expeditionary Warfare USV’s capability of performing expeditionary, littoral, and force protection operations as well as its long-range USV missions in support of expeditionary advanced based -operations. The services will determine if there is potential for further development of any of the technologies demonstrated at the July ‘Fight the Naval Force Forward’ ANTX.

NSWCDD invested approximately $5 million in Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) Section 219 investments in fiscal year 2018-2019 to enable the command’s scientists and engineers to mature the automated targeting, adaptable missile launcher, and weapons control systems and integrate them into the autonomous Textron System’s CUSV platform creating the Expeditionary Warfare USV.

“This effort represents the gold standard in leveraging NISE 219 funding as a force multiplier to achieving advanced technological capabilities,” said Kathleen Jones, NSWCDD chief technology officer. “We take great pride in the innovation of our scientists and engineers and their efforts to partner with industry and collaborate across warfare centers to bring this capability to fruition.”

The Navy-industry Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) team that developed the Expeditionary Warfare Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) is pictured at the 2019 Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX).
Photo by Stacia Courtney

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