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28/11/23: Op-Ed: Military-Industry Conference highlights the importance of Uncrewed Vessels

Unmanned systems offer the promise of providing the U.S. military with an asymmetric advantage over potential adversaries.



For those who follow military matters, it is impossible to miss the impact of emerging technologies on changing the character of warfare through the ages. From the time that our cave-dwelling ancestors figured out how to fasten a sharpened stone to the end of a sturdy stick, advances in weaponry have decided the outcome of battles and the fate of nations.


Today there are numerous technologies that have the promise to make an enormous impact on warfare in the third decade of the twenty-first century. Some of the most prominent include next generation fighter aircraft, quantum computing, stealthy bombers, artificial intelligence and unmanned technologies in all domains.


For the U.S. Navy, unmanned systems – especially uncrewed maritime systems – offer the promise of providing the U.S. military with an asymmetric advantage over potential adversaries. Ukraine’s use of weaponized uncrewed surface systems to attack Russian naval vessels has demonstrated just one use of these – as one wag described them – “Swiss Army Knife” platforms.


‘Navy After Next’

The U.S. Navy has taken several actions to define and accelerate its journey to have uncrewed platforms populate the fleet. These include publishing an UNMANNED Campaign Framework, standing up an Unmanned Task Force, establishing Surface Development Squadron One in San Diego and Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One in Port Hueneme, and conducting a large number of exercises, experiments and demonstrations to evaluate uncrewed platforms, including the recently completed Integrated Battle Problem 2023.


Indeed, in its vision for the “Navy After Next,” the Navy’s Force Design 2045 document envisions a fleet of 500 ships, to include 350 crewed vessels and 150 uncrewed maritime vehicles. This represents a once-in-a-generation shift in the composition of the Navy fleet and one that will place big bets on emerging technologies that can make uncrewed maritime vehicles more autonomous.


This U.S. Navy emphasis on uncrewed maritime vehicles was on full display at a major international military-industry event. Held in Honolulu, Hawaii at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in mid-November of this year, TECHNET Indo-Pacific drew over 4,000 delegates from throughout the Indo-Pacific region. As in previous years, the conference featured keynote speakers as well as breakout panels. 


Uncrewed maritime vehicles

Column space does not allow for a full description of all that occurred at this three-day event, so I will focus on the keynotes and panels that concentrated most-intently on uncrewed maritime vehicles. 


Rear Admiral Eric Ruttenberg, Reserve Deputy Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, delivered the event’s opening keynote address.


His presentation: “Indo-Pacific: The Stakes Could Not Be Higher: Implementation of Modern Technologies Must be Accelerated to Meet Military Needs,” covered a wide range of challenges and opportunities facing the U.S. Navy in the Indo-Pacific region.


A substantial portion of his remarks were focused on uncrewed maritime vehicles.


Pacific Fleet highlights

Here are some of the highlights: 

  • The most pressing need for Pacific Fleet is innovation, and the velocity of innovation must accelerate. 

  • Pacific Fleet is looking for ways to get unmanned surface vehicles forward to desired areas of operations.

  • Pacific Fleet’s strong emphasis on unmanned will enable warfighters to conduct missions in a contested environment that manned systems cannot do due to adversary anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities.

  • We must continue to evaluate unmanned systems in exercises, experiments and demonstrations.

  • The Integrated Battle Problem series represents the pinnacle of experimentation and will continue into 2024 and beyond.


It is easy to see that the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which is responsible for dealing with the United States principal adversary in the region, is leaning forward to leverage uncrewed maritime vehicles to perform a plethora of missions for a number of reasons, among them: their ability to reduce the risk to human life in high threat areas, to deliver persistent surveillance over areas of interest, and to provide options to warfighters that derive from the inherent advantages of unmanned technologies.


Impact of unmanned maritime systems

Later that day, a panel of subject matter experts in the field of uncrewed maritime vehicles highlighted many of the strides the Navy has made in getting these technologies into the hands of Sailors and Marines who evaluated them in the operational environment. Among the highlights of this panel: “The Impact of Unmanned Maritime Systems on Asia-Pacific Navies:”

  • International Maritime Exercise 2022, held under the auspices of Commander Task Force 59 in the Arabian Gulf, set the standard for uncrewed maritime vehicle experimentation and included operations with a number of regional partners. Navies of these nations explored the capabilities of USVs such as the Saildrone, the MARTAC MANTAS and Devil Ray, and many other USVs from participating nations. 

  • RIMPAC/Trident Warrior 2022 was a major coming out for uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) operating with the fleet. As a result, the Integrated Battle Problems are increasingly evaluating USVs in broader and more intense set of missions.  

  • Australia has become a leader is USV experimentation. Autonomous Warrior 22 expanded the evaluation of USVs from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States and featured 30 autonomous systems, including Saildrone, MANTAS and Devil Ray. 

  • The goal of Pacific Fleet is not to field fully autonomous systems at some future time, but rather to field semi-autonomous systems now.


Accelerated development

It is clear that the Department of the Navy is committed to an accelerated development path for uncrewed surface systems so that they can complement the Navy fleet and perform missions that keep Sailors and Marines out of harm’s way. 


Coronado has a rich history of thriving alongside the U.S. Navy.


George Galdorisi is a career naval aviator and national security professional. His 30-year career as a naval aviator culminated in 14 years of consecutive service as executive officer,commanding officer, commodore, and chief of staff. He is a 40-year Coronado resident andenjoys writing, especially speculative fiction about the future of warfare. He is the author of 16 books, including four consecutive New York Times best sellers.

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