JUST IN: Navy, Marine Corps Unmanned Framework Calls For ‘Capabilities’ Over Platforms

By Stew Magnuson
Sea Hunter

Navy photo by John F. Williams

The Department of the Navy’s newly released “Unmanned Campaign Framework” declares that robotic systems will be vital for military operations going forward on land, sea and underwater.

“We need platforms to deliver lethal and nonlethal effects simultaneously in all domains across multiple axes,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said in the report’s foreword, which was released March 16.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said: “I am committed to a deliberate, but aggressive pathway forward for Marine Corps unmanned systems.”

The framework’s overarching vision is to: “Make unmanned systems a trusted and sustainable part of the Naval force structure, integrated at speed to provide lethal, survivable, and scalable effects in support of the future maritime mission,” the report stated.

The framework stressed capabilities over platforms and spelled out a variety of technologies that will be needed to rapidly develop and deploy new robotic systems.

Along with the framework, the Department of the Navy has produced a classified “Unmanned Plan of Actions and Milestones.” The two services are also developing detailed technology maturation and acquisition roadmaps within a separate classified plan of action and milestones, a statement released with the framework said.

“The plan lays out how we will scale tested and proven systems as well as develop the core technologies required to successfully integrate unmanned systems into the fleet,” Vice Adm. Jim Kilby, deputy chief of naval operations for warfighting requirements and capabilities, said in a statement.

“Unmanned concepts allow us to rewrite the narrative on traditional warfare. Through a capabilities-based approach we can build a future where unmanned systems are at the front lines of our competitive advantage,” the framework said.

Berger added that the campaign plan serves as a starting point for the Marine Corps to understand that unmanned systems “must and will take on greater importance in our near future,” he said.

“Concepts such as half of our aviation fleet being unmanned in the near- to mid-term, or most of our expeditionary logistics being unmanned in the near- to mid-term should not frighten anyone,” Berger said. “Rather, these ideas should ignite the creative and cunning nature of our Marines so that our forward-deployed forces are even more lethal and useful to the joint force.”

The report stressed that autonomous systems are not a replacement for humans. They provide additional capacity and capability to the combatant force and allows commanders the ability to accept risk where they couldn’t before.

Lt. Gen Eric Smith, commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command and deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration, said: “A family of unmanned systems is critical to the employment of our force during Distributed Maritime Operations. The goal is for us to be able to persist inside the weapons engagement zone of any adversary, to create problems and challenges, to make that adversary change their behavior or course of action they intend to pursue.”

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., vice ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and the ranking member of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, said: “We must work out these new platforms’ required capabilities and operational concepts before they enter full development. Simply put, the Navy must show they can meet the critical milestones and understand these platforms’ roles before we invest taxpayer money into the vessels’ full production.”

“To get this right, we must resolve the technical and operational issues with a few of these vessels before entering full production. If that sounds commonsense, it is,” he said in a statement.

The framework pointed out that there is a lot more the sea services have to work on other than the robotic platforms themselves.

“A physical platform alone cannot carry out missions without the appropriate key enablers, core technologies and interoperability standards,” it said.

That includes infrastructure such as launch and recovery facilities, training, communications backbones, and the development of core technologies such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, navigation and sense-and-avoid sensors.

Unmanned systems henceforth will be included in all aspects of development including studies and analyses, wargames, modeling and simulation and experiments and exercises, the framework said.

The “capabilities over platforms” approach calls for: common standard interfaces; an integrated network; common control interfaces; consolidated personnel and consolidated sustainment and maintenance, the framework said.

One technology that will help build the communications backbone will be an “Ocean of Things program,” which will seek to enable persistent maritime situational awareness through a distributed sensor network over large ocean areas by deploying thousands of small, low-cost floats that transmit data via satellite for storage and real-time analysis, the framework said.

Topics: Robotics, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Marine Corps News, Navy News

Comments (1)

Re: Navy, Marine Corps Unmanned System Roadmap Calls For ‘Capabilities’ Over Platforms

The USMC is actually asking Defense Industry for ways to counter and breach A2/AD...

I agree with the rationale of using unmanned systems for INDO-PACOM. The VLS-cell count has to be boosted, and a policy manual on what happens (and the USN and USMC response) if unfriendly nations and pirates capture, hijack, sink, destroy, hack, tamper, sabotage, or board USVs and UUVs need to be written and documented and tested.

While self-protective weapons such as machine guns will help prevent hostile unmanned ship takeovers, the future peer nation wars won't be fought with .50cal M2HBs or 40mm MK-19s or MK38 25mm autocannons. The USN and USMC need to stop believing in these guns as the primary armament and instead adopt longer-range precision guided missiles such as Hellfire, SPIKE, AIM-9X, NASAM, and SeaRAM. The future peer nation wars will be LRPFs arcing missiles, cruise missiles, torpedoes, and Hypersonics and AMD and BMD is key...not a gunfight with close-in cannons and machine guns. Thus, Mission Modules for Peacetime (machine guns only) and Wartime (LRPFs, SHORADS, land attack missiles, and SAMs) should be implemented.

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