LONDON - The commander for U.S. naval forces in the Middle East discussed the role of unmanned systems and artificial intelligence in naval operations at an international security conference in the United Kingdom, May 24.
Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, spoke to an audience of nearly 800 international defense and industry leaders during the Combined Naval Event at the Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre.
“We are on a path to build the world’s first international unmanned surface vessel fleet,” Cooper said. “Three weeks ago, we surpassed 10,000 total sailing hours for unmanned surface vessels throughout the region. Additionally, two vessels each exceeded 100 consecutive operating days at sea.”
U.S. 5th Fleet is currently fielding multiple unmanned systems with artificial intelligence across the Middle East after establishing Task Force 59 in September. The task force works closely with members of industry and academia as well as other experts to provide operator feedback and help drive the innovation process forward.
“The goal is a distributed and integrated network of systems, operated with our partners, to significantly expand how far we can see,” said Cooper.
Over an eight-month period, the task force stood up operating hubs for unmanned systems and artificial intelligence in Bahrain and Aqaba, Jordan while deploying new unmanned systems to a half-dozen bilateral and multilateral exercises. Additionally, some of the systems are currently contributing to daily operations in regional waters by enhancing maritime surveillance.
“Every partner and every sensor offers new information that can be added to what we call the ‘Digital Ocean,’ an intelligent synthesis of around-the-clock inputs encompassing thousands of images.” Cooper explained. “Putting more eyes above, on and below the water’s surface enhances our picture of the surrounding seas and enables us to position our crewed ships to react more rapidly.”
Earlier this year, U.S. 5th Fleet announced the goal of forming a multinational fleet of 100 unmanned surface vessels by the summer of 2023.
“A network of partners can increase shared maritime domain awareness by 30 or 40 times, through an interconnected mesh of sensors and real-time data fused together,” Cooper said. “This is an ambitious goal, but it is achievable because of our incredibly talented team.”
U.S. 5th Fleet led the world’s largest unmanned maritime exercise in February when 10 nations fielded more than 80 unmanned systems during International Maritime Exercise 2022. The exercise enabled operators employ advanced unmanned systems during 14 different operational scenarios.
“We are clearly more capable when we operate together, which is why strengthening partnerships and accelerating innovation are intertwined,” said Cooper. “It is not just about the technology. It is our people who have us on a path to realizing this vision together with our partners in the region.”
The U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The region is comprised of 21 countries and includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al-Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.