Admiral: UAVs, Other Unmanned Systems Crucial to Navy’s Future

But the technical problems, she said, are not as tough as the cultural shift as the Navy moves toward greater innovation at every level.
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Fifteen years ago, some admirals laughed at the notion that unmanned systems could take the place of existing aircraft. One admiral spoke with disdain about “model airplanes,” saying none would land on his aircraft carriers.

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Lt. Cmdr. Dan Fillion, explains the capabilities of the Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to spectators during the first-ever Aerospace Industry Exhibition at the Tokyo Big Sight Convention Center in November. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dominique Pineiro) The technology has changed and so has the Navy’s outlook on remote-controlled and automated craft for the air and the water, said Rear Adm. Wendi B. Carpenter, commander at the Navy Warfare Development Command. Speaking at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Unmanned Systems Program Review Thursday (Feb. 4) in Washington. She described her job as being paid to think about unmanned systems, their future and their integration with information networks. She also described a superior telling her she had to “change the culture” of the Navy.

Now, the Navy “sees unmanned craft as being crucial to our future operations,” she said.

The area off the coast of Somalia plagued by pirate attacks includes about 1 million square miles of ocean. That’s a big slice to try to view with manned aircraft and ship and submarines. So there are place in a variety of security applications, from the oceans to ports to disaster response for unmanned craft in the sky, underwater and on the surface.

What’s needed for future success? Reasonable costs, and improved ability to get data off the crafts and in sync with other information systems, improving maritime awareness. But the technical problems, she said, are not as tough as the cultural shift as the Navy moves toward greater innovation at every level.

Rear Adm. Terry Kraft, director of ISR intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, said the Navy has plans for a couple of major UAV and UUV (unmanned undersea vehicle) deployments and tests and the systems move from platform-centric to information-centric in their design and management.

Designing the systems is different than conventional aircraft, which might have an expected 30-year life before obsolescence; with technology changing so fast in unmanned systems, craft are designed for something more like a 10-year life. He sees a 20-year trend of the Navy moving away from manned aircraft with the unmanned on the rise.

That rapidly changing technology, along with smart integration with knowledge network, will help make the Navy into an ” Information Dominance Corps,” he said.

Energy and propulsion remain a challenge, especially when compared to the massive advances in imaging and sensor technology. “I need power and energy that will keep these things airborne for a long time,” he said.

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