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The U.S. Navy Has Big Plans to Use Deadly "Swarms". Here's How It Works.

February 4, 2019 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: NavySwarmAIMilitaryTechnologyRussiaChinaIran

The U.S. Navy Has Big Plans to Use Deadly "Swarms". Here's How It Works.

The U.S. Navy is beginning to arm surface drone boats with guns, rockets and mobile missiles to overwhelm enemies with swarming attacks, protect sailors at farther stand-off ranges and coordinate maritime strikes across dispersed areas of ocean.

The US Navy is beginning to arm surface drone boats with guns, rockets and mobile missiles to overwhelm enemies with swarming attacks, protect sailors at farther stand-off ranges and coordinate maritime strikes across dispersed areas of ocean.

The concept is to call upon newer levels of autonomy enabling weapons systems to search for enemies, track their movements and then target them -- all while humans perform command and control as safter ranges.

“We will be incorporating direct and indirect fire. We will be participating in a force protection exercise for the US Navy,” Wayne Prender, Senior Vice President of Applied Technology and Advanced Programs, Textron Systems, told Warrior Maven in an interview.

The testing and demonstrations are evolving through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between Textron and the Navy, intended to explore, prototype and ultimately deploy the armed Unmanned Surface Vehicles.

Arming USVs fits within the scope of broader Navy strategies focused on leveraging the latest advances in autonomy and artificial intelligence.

“We want to be able to adapt and upgrade platforms to integrate technology as it develops. This prevents getting the sensors, payloads and platforms too intertwined so that when we do make breakthroughs in machine learning and AI, we will be able to incorporate them into a while portfolio of platforms and systems,” Capt. Pete Small, Program Executive Officer, said at the Surface Naval Association.

Small described an ongoing initiative to engineer common inferface control documents exploring different levels of autonomy. He cited emerging AI-enabled procedural functions such as turning on an engine, operating mechanical and electrical equipment and automating elements of command and control. The program, call Unmanned Maritime Autonomy Architecture, is the technical foundation through which armed surface drones will evolve. Common technical standards are the process through which different form factors can both integrate and upgrade without needing major restructuring or new-build platforms.

The Navy and Textron are planning an upcoming demonstration to refine requirements for arming surface drones, assess the technology, perform force protection exercises and replicate mock combat scenarios.

“We are going to demonstrate a proof of concept and showcase what sort of things could be done,” Prender added. “If we get this in the hands of sailors, they will find new and innovative ways to employ the systems.”

The exact weapons being assessed by Textron and the Navy are not available for security reasons, but they are being integrated to perform a range of mission sets, developers said. These missions include things like perimeter security, wherein unmanned armed surface vessels are forward deployed to identify and attack approaching targets, all while protecting larger ships such as a Littoral Combat Ships or even Carrier Strike Groups and Amphibious Ready Groups.

Armed surface drones, it seems self-evident, could bring a substantial force protection element to surface warfare. Networked drone boats could spread across large swaths of open ocean to, potentially in coordination with aerial drones, and fire upon approaching enemy ships, boat swarms and even incoming missiles. The Navy does have layered suite of ship-launched interceptor missiles, to include SeaRAM, Rolling Airframe Missile, Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block II - and even the phalanx-firing Close-in Weapons System for the closest approaching enemy attacks. It certainly seems conceivable, should there be a way to network sensors, radar and fire control, that some of these interceptor weapons might be able to arm forward stationed unmanned ships. Primarily, however, the nearest term applications might likely involve smaller, mobile attack weapons such as .50-cal machine guns, 57mm guns or other standard deck-fired weapons or even MANPAD types of heat-seeking anti-air and surface warfare attack weapons.

This kind of weapons range, to include the possibility of interceptors, various gun systems and some small remotely-fired missiles, could target enemy drones, lower flying aircraft, attacking small boats and enemy ships at ranges otherwise more difficult to reach with ship-board sensors and weapons.

Defensive uses for swarm boats could introduce a substantial increase in ship protection; should an enemy seek to overwhelm ship defenses with a speeding swarm of small boat attacks or a barrage of incoming weapons, layered ship defenses could, at very least, be challenged, according to a 2017 article from the Journal of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

Armed surface drones, it seems self-evident, could bring a substantial force protection element to surface warfare. Networked drone boats could spread across large swaths of open ocean to, potentially in coordination with aerial drones, and fire upon approaching enemy ships, boat swarms and even incoming missiles. The Navy does have layered suite of ship-launched interceptor missiles, to include SeaRAM, Rolling Airframe Missile, Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block II - and even the phalanx-firing Close-in Weapons System for the closest approaching enemy attacks. It certainly seems conceivable, should there be a way to network sensors, radar and fire control, that some of these interceptor weapons might be able to arm forward stationed unmanned ships. Primarily, however, the nearest term applications might likely involve smaller, mobile attack weapons such as .50-cal machine guns, 57mm guns or other standard deck-fired weapons or even MANPAD types of heat-seeking anti-air and surface warfare attack weapons.

This kind of weapons range, to include the possibility of interceptors, various gun systems and some small remotely-fired missiles, could target enemy drones, lower flying aircraft, attacking small boats and enemy ships at ranges otherwise more difficult to reach with ship-board sensors and weapons.

Defensive uses for swarm boats could introduce a substantial increase in ship protection; should an enemy seek to overwhelm ship defenses with a speeding swarm of small boat attacks or a barrage of incoming weapons, layered ship defenses could, at very least, be challenged, according to a 2017 article from the Journal of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army - Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has a Masters in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

This first appeared in Warrior Maven here