NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The U.S. Navy’s growing and increasingly diverse portfolio of unmanned systems is creating a jumble of control systems, creating problems for a force that hopes robot ships, aircraft and submarines will help it regain a significant advantage over rivals China and Russia.
One significant issue is having to train sailors on a number of different systems, which can prove time-consuming, inefficient and expensive.
“From a manned-machine teaming and sailor-integration perspective, we need a portfolio of systems to do a wide variety of things,” said Capt. Pete Small, the head of unmanned maritime systems at Naval Sea Systems Command. “We can’t bring a different interface for each platform to our sailors — from a training perspective but also from an integration perspective.
“We might have a destroyer that needs to operate an [unmanned surface vessel] and an [unmanned underwater vehicle] and they all need to be linked back to a shore command center. So we’ve got to have common communications protocols to make that all happen, and we want to reduce the burden on sailors to go do that.”
That’s driving the Navy toward a goal of having one control system to run all the unmanned platforms in the service’s portfolio: a goal that is a good ways away, Small said.
“The end state is — future state nirvana — would be one set of software that you could do it all on,” he said. “I think that’s a faraway vision. And the challenges are every unmanned system is a little bit different and has its own requirements. And each of the integration points — a destroyer, a shore base or a submarine — has slightly different integration requirements as well.
“But the vision is that we can enjoy commonality as much as possible and share pieces of software wherever possible.”
The effort mirrors a similar endeavor in the surface Navy to develop a single combat system that controls every ship’s systems.
The goal here is that if a sailor who is trained on a big-deck amphibious ship transfers to a destroyer, no extra training will be necessary to run the equipment on the destroyer.
“That’s an imperative going forward — we have to get to one, integrated combat system,” Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, the chief of naval operations’ director of surface warfare, said in a December interview at the Pentagon with Defense News.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News. Before that, he reported for Navy Times.