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Video Above Navy Ocean Attack Plan - Combined Air, Surface & Undersea Drones

*A top Warrior Maven article. Republished for viewer interest

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

It would not be an exaggeration to describe the Navy’s rapid acquisition of unmanned systems as a “drone explosion,” given the number of new surface, air and undersea platforms.

The service’s portfolio is extensive and includes various large, medium and small undersea and surface drones that are now at various stages of development. 

Unmanned Systems

The platforms range from large-unmanned submarine-like systems such as the XLUUV, or Extra Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicle to small mine-hunting, semi-autonomous undersea drones to surface drone platforms such as the Unmanned Surface Vehicle-Medium. The advent of new technologies, fortified by emerging levels of Ai-enabled autonomy, continues to quickly reshape concepts of operation for warfare.

XLUUV

The US Navy awarded a contract modification for the delivery of five Boeing Orca XLUUV and associated support elements. Credit: Boeing.

Maritime warfare is expected to be more dispersed and defined in large measure by breakthrough weapons and sensors with much greater range, precision and data-transmission capability. Unmanned systems, and cross-domain air, surface and undersea networking in particular, form the conceptual basis of what could be called a transformation. 

Unmanned systems can conduct clandestine forward operating surveillance and reconnaissance missions, function as sensor nodes within a larger, multi-domain meshed warfare network. Advanced algorithms are allowing much greater degrees of collective or collaborative autonomy such that groups of unmanned systems can now operate in tandem with one another and adjust in real-time to changing combat variables. 

The advent of greater unmanned systems also allows manned platforms to operate as motherships or host platforms performing command and control at safer standoff distances.

Unmanned Maritime Vehicle Testing

Given this, it comes as no surprise that the Navy just held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the “first purpose-built and co-located facilities for unmanned maritime vehicle testing,” located at Naval Base Ventura County, Calif.

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“These facilities will be the focal point of Navy learning and experimentation on the capabilities, operations and sustainment of Unmanned Maritime Vehicle prototypes to inform future programs,” said Capt. Pete Small, Program Manager, Unmanned Maritime Systems,” said in a Navy report.

Located on Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme Division, at Naval Base Ventura County, the facilities will accommodate testing, evaluation, and technology demonstration for Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV) and Unmanned Surface Vessel prototypes.

Port Hueneme, California - Aerial view of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division

Port Hueneme, California - Aerial view of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division

The intent of the new facility, it seems clear, is to further support the Navy’s now-underway Distributed Maritime Operations strategy designed to position the service to prevail in major, great-power maritime warfare in a fast-evolving high-threat environment. Unmanned systems can greatly support the need for longer-range, more distributed, yet closely networked warfare.

Orca XLUUV, MUSV and Overloard USV

In addition to five Orca XLUUV prototypes, the NBVC Port Hueneme site will eventually accommodate one MUSV, two Sea Hunter USV, and four Overlord USV prototypes, the Navy statement said.

It clearly appears the center will, given its focus on training, testing and operating prototypes, also explore evolving concepts of operation needed to adjust to changing threats. With this in mind, the fact that the new facility will operate four “Overlord” USV prototypes seems quite significant, as the Overlord (or Ghost Fleet) program has been achieving breakthrough levels of coordination and multi-domain data sharing for several years now. 

Orca extra-large unmanned undersea vehicle

Orca extra-large unmanned undersea vehicle

The concept, which began several years ago as an Office of Naval Research program, is to extend the premise of “autonomy” beyond the operations of a single vessel to enable a kind of coordinated, collective autonomy wherein unmanned systems share and analyze information among themselves and make course corrections of mission adjustments as needed.

Multi-domain connectivity, greatly fortified and further enabled by unmanned systems, relies upon rapid and successful prototyping, testing and experimentation, a point emphasized by Small in recent years. 

Along these lines, Small has also in recent years talked often at Navy events about the importance of engineering the proper “interfaces” or technical infrastructure sufficient to support secure multi-domain connectivity. Much of this is accomplished through the use of common IP protocol standards and a strategy often referred to as “open architecture” intended to favor interoperability among otherwise disconnected platforms and enable rapid, seamless integration of new technologies as they emerge.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. 

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, President - Warrior Maven, Center for Military Modernization