Unmanned vehicles are a key element in the U.S. Navy's fight against mines, but service officials want to improve existing systems and acquire new ones that feature greater autonomy, better sensors and more standard command and control.
The Navy is focused on "not just getting the sailor out of the minefield, but getting the sailor off the mine," James Thomsen, the program executive officer for littoral and mine warfare for Naval Sea Systems Command, said Thursday at AUVSI's Unmanned Systems Program Review 2008 in Washington, D.C.
Thomsen said the Navy is looking for cheap, expendable unmanned underwater vehicles as part of the Littoral and Undersea Surveillance program, "the only place where we're pursuing throw-away systems."
The Navy's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program has a heavy unmanned systems component, including for anti-mine warfare. However, Thomsen and other speakers said that industry, particularly companies seeking to develop for the LCS, should focus on being compatible with its control system and on building reliable systems with a need for minimal maintenance.
Capt. Mike Good, NAVSEA's PEO for LMW/PMS 420, said 15 sailors serve as a mission detachment for the LCS, so they don't have time to work with balky or unreliable systems.
Several speakers at the Thursday program, which focused on maritime systems, said they need more reliability and autonomy, better control and communications and advanced sensors, not new platforms.
The reliability of systems has a "huge influence" on whether unmanned systems "are accepted in the fleet," Thomsen said.
"It's got to be embedded into the forces that we work with today. We cannot add infrastructure to the fleet," he said.
Capt. Paul Siegrist, NAVSEA's PEO for LMW/PMS 403, said there are several technological challenges facing the Navy's effort to expand the use of unmanned vehicles. In the short term, he said, the service wants reliable launch and recovery, reliable communications and better platform integration, among others.
Medium-term needs include greater autonomy and more advanced sensors that can send real-time information if needed, retain information that can wait, and have the wisdom to know the difference.
"There will be information that we need to get back to the warfighter now, now, now," Siegrist said.
The Navy is working on a variety of other unmanned systems, from airborne mine detectors to unmanned surface vehicles to unattended netted sensors that can ride out sea storms and relay information to satellites.
The service is also seeking an unmanned replacement for the SEALs Delivery Vehicle, which can currently carry four Navy SEALs but requires a pilot and navigator. An unmanned version could dispense with the pilot and navigator and carry six SEALs.
"Basically, we want to put six people and stuff ashore ... and recover them and take them back to the submarine," said Capt. Patrick Sullivan of Naval Special Warfare's Program Office (PMS 340). "We need to have the thing be able to fly itself."
AUVSI's Unmanned Systems Program Review 2008 continues Friday. Friday's presentations will focus on airborne systems.
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