Navy must move faster to build fleet of unmanned surface ships – The US Navy is in a proverbial race against time to create the fleet needed to deter competing major powers such as Russia and China. The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral Michael Gilday, recently propose a fleet of 500 ships by the 2030s. That means building more surface ships, aircraft carriers, amphibious warfare ships and submarines.
But to achieve the NOC’s goal, the Navy will also need to take the drastic step of incorporating about 150 unmanned surface vessels (USVs) and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) into its fleet architecture. This will require major investments, not only in budgetary resources, but also in time and personnel. It will also require extensive experimentation with unmanned platforms to develop appropriate concepts of operations, tactics and procedures to fully integrate unmanned vessels with the rest of the fleet.
Unmanned ships are considered as a key enabler of the Navy’s new operational concept, distributed maritime operations. They are also critical to the Navy’s ability to deploy a fleet of sufficient size and capability to ensure the national security of the United States. Admiral Gilday Explain the importance of unmanned platforms as well:
“So, first of all, we believe this is an important part of the future. That we cannot afford to send a navy as we did in the previous century. That we believe numbers are important, but when it comes to affordability, when it comes to lethality, that there’s a better way to do that than before. Unmanned is part of this answer. And certainly the combination of crewed and unmanned, which would eventually lead to an element of a more self-sufficient fleet, is the direction we are headed in.
The Navy proposes to develop at least four courses (extra small, small, medium and large) USVs. The first two classes will serve as complements to other surface ships, primarily as detection platforms. The Navy’s plans to build a fleet of 500 ships emphasize the latter two categories, the Medium USV (MUSV) and Large USV (LUSV) which are proposed to be the size of a corvette and a ship respectively. a patrol frigate. MUSVs and LUSVs are envisioned as conducting a range of missions, including anti-surface and submarine warfare. Some of these ships may eventually be manned, at least until the required autonomy can be achieved.
In the Very Small and Small categories, the Navy has a record program for the Common Unmanned Surface Vessel (CUSV) which can carry a variety of sensors and operate from shore or a littoral combat ship. Other examples of small USVs include the Saildragon and the Manta, both of which have been deployed with the fleet on exercises in the Indo-Pacific and the Middle East.
The Navy funded the development of several prototype LUSVs and MUSVs. Department of Defense Office of Strategic Capabilities financed the creation of two prototypes of a potential M/LUSV, the NOMAD and the RANGER, as part of its Ghost Fleet program. Last year, the Navy conducted a test launch of an SM-6 Ranger missile. After much experimentation with these two ships, including long-range deployments, they were handed over to the Navy. Two additional Ghost Fleet ships will be acquired to continue the development of large USV classes.
Perhaps the most promising USV is the mid-size Sea Hunter. At 135 feet, the composite hull of the trimaran sea hunter and her sister ship, the Seahawk, offer significantly greater range and payload than smaller USVs, but at a fraction of the cost of an LUSV. In repeated exercises with the fleet, Sea Hunter demonstrated many of the capabilities needed for an operational USV, including long-range deployment under autonomous guidance and good seakeeping.
The Navy initially proposed an aggressive program that would rapidly acquire a small number of MUSVs and LUSVs to provide the basis for experimenting with concepts of operations (CONOPS), command and control, and relevant technologies. As technologies matured, operating a limited number of USVs would have allowed the Navy to better define its technical requirements, begin to understand how to use USVs, and better understand other critical issues. such as training and sustainment.
Unfortunately, the Navy recently announced that it will not be launching a formal USV program for at least five years. In doing so, the Navy appears to have capitulated to congressional critics who have demanded that critical technologies for unmanned ships be proven before a major acquisition program is launched. the The NOC has proposed a scale-up approach, deploying a number of smaller USVs with the fleet to begin the process of developing CONOPS and tactics while the relevant technologies associated with MUSVs and LUSVs mature.
Waiting for technologies to mature and deploying only small USVs for experimental purposes is likely to prove a losing strategy when it comes to the real test: operating multiple M/LUSVs. Many relevant technologies are being developed in the private sector at a faster rate than the Navy can. This sequential, “develop before you buy” approach virtually guarantees that the Navy will continually be behind the power curve, whether in USV technologies or operating concepts, training and sustainment. relevant power.
To learn to operate and sustain M/LUSVS, the Navy must deploy a capability beyond the small classes of USVs. To do this, the Navy should consider acquiring a squadron of Sea Hunter MUSVs equipped with various sets of sensors. The Sea Hunter is a relatively inexpensive yet robust and production-ready rig. Deploying a squadron of Sea Hunters would put real capability in the hands of the fleet and allow the Navy to gain invaluable experience in operating USVs by exploiting their unique properties. These ships could even be forward deployed with elements of the new Marine Littoral regiment, posing a new and difficult challenge to China.
Time is the scarcest commodity if the Navy is to achieve its goal of 500 ships by the 2030s. The Navy would be wise to adopt a mixed strategy, emphasizing the development of appropriate building blocks for M/ LUSV while acquiring and operating multiple Sea Hunters to advance proper sustainment tactics and concepts.
Dr. Daniel Goure, editor in 1945, is senior vice president of the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit public policy research organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. He is involved in a wide range of issues as part of the institute’s national security agenda. Dr. Goure has held leadership positions in the private sector and in the US government. Most recently, he was a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. Dr. Goure spent two years with the United States government as Director of the Office of Strategic Competitiveness in the Office of the Secretary to defense. He has also served as a principal analyst on national security and defense issues with the Center for Naval Analyses, Science Applications International Corporation, SRS Technologies, R&D Associates, and System Planning Corporation.