Mabus: Unmanned Systems Key to Future of Navy

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Unmanned systems will continue to be a priority for the Navy as the service makes key investments in air, ground, surface and undersea drones, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said Oct. 27.

“As we look to the future, unmanned systems are will continue to be a viable and growing area of our military and our capabilities,” he said during the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual defense conference in Arlington, Virginia.

Earlier this year, Mabus announced the creation of a new deputy assistant secretary position for unmanned systems as well as a new directorate within the office of the chief of naval operations for such systems.

“The change to the organization is a reflection of the priority that we’re placing on this emerging capability and how critical it is that we have cohesive leadership for unmanned programs,” Mabus said.

It is his goal to drive a “deliberate and thoughtful” strategy to create new systems, he said.

The commercial sector is rapidly developing cutting edge drones, he noted. Such technology in the hands of adversaries could be dangerous, and the United States must be able to respond, he said.

“As a military force, we absolutely cannot afford to lose in this realm.”

Interoperability among these systems is essential going forward, he noted. “As this technology becomes more complex and widespread, ensuring that we can manage these technologies across different domains, maintaining that superiority in all those domains and sometimes multiple domains … becomes absolutely critical.”

Mabus asked industry to help the service in its effort to develop compatible systems.

“Our unmanned systems will be successful only if they’re developed to be interoperable, to be modular, to have open architecture, to address the complexities of operating autonomously and the advancement of systems that can operate across multiple domains,” he said.

During his remarks, Mabus showed off a quadcopter known as the Kraken, a reference to the mythical sea monster that terrified sailors centuries ago. The system, which is low-cost and 3D-printed, can lurk underwater for long periods of time and then “pop up” when instructed to do so, he said. “It’s pretty cool,” he added.

The Navy will need systems that can be used in multiple domains in future operations, he said.
Mabus also stressed the need for low-cost and expendable systems that could penetrate a hostile environment.

Additionally, the Navy is examining how it can increase the endurance of unmanned underwater vehicles. “Our UUVs need to be able to stay out for months at a time allowing them to observe large areas for a long period [of time] without interruption and without degradation,” he said.

Mabus pointed to the Office of Naval Research’s large-displacement unmanned undersea vehicle as one example of work the service is doing in increasing UUV endurance. ONR leaders have said they want the system to be able to operate undersea for decades.

The Navy plans to deploy LDUUVs from an exclusive unmanned undersea vehicle squadron on an independent mission no later than 2020, Mabus said.

Topics: Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles, Unmanned Ground Vehicles, Unmanned Underwater Vehicles

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