Military Embedded Systems

Uncrewed vehicles to play major role in Navy future "hybrid fleet," CNO tells Sea-Air-Space crowd


April 03, 2023

Dan Taylor

Technology Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Uncrewed vehicles to play major role in Navy future "hybrid fleet," CNO tells Sea-Air-Space crowd
Michael Gilday, U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations. (DoD photo.)

SEA-AIR-SPACE 2023--NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. The U.S. Navy has focused heavily over the past year on developing future fleet concepts that involve teams of manned and unmanned assets as part of a "hybrid fleet" where drones play an increasingly important role in the sea service, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Michael Gilday said at the Navy League's annual Sea-Air-Space exposition on Monday.

Gilday referred to it as a "distributed fleet" with uncrewed assets acting as a major part, adding that recent integrated exercises have involved "leveraging manned and unmanned teaming to bring together a hybrid fleet in the years ahead."

Uncrewed vehicles will also help the Navy and Marine Corps operate abroad by helping them to sustain their presence no matter where in the world they are located, he added. "We are experimenting with unmanned in terms of how we increase our ability to effectively and efficiently sustain the Navy and Marine Corps at their forward operating bases," Gilday said.

The Navy has been firm in its commitment to make uncrewed systems a bigger part of its fleet: Last year, the CNO released the 2022 Navigation Plan, which called for a hybrid fleet that would involve a 500-vessel mixture of large surface ships, submarines, and uncrewed systems.

The Navy has pursued specific programs meant to take over missions that used to be performed by manned vessels; one of the major programs is the unmanned influence sweep system (UISS), which aims to take over dangerous minehunting duties from sailors. The CNO declared that the UISS had achieved initial operational capability in July 2022.

"Capable of being operated from littoral combat ships (LCS), shore, or vessels of opportunity (VOO), UISS provides acoustic and magnetic minesweeping coupled with the semi-autonomous, diesel-powered, aluminum-hulled Mine Countermeasures Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MCM USV)," according to details from a Navy statement. "The MCM USV is an integral part of the MCM mission package and serves as the tow platform for both minesweeping and minehunting missions."

Gilday also touted high-powered microwave and directed-energy technologies during his address, asserting that these technologies are "not just theoretical, not just aspirational, they are in the fleet today."

The Navy has conducted several high-profile tests of directed-energy technology in attempts to shoot down uncrewed or unmanned systems. In one of these tests -- done in February 2022 -- the Navy used an all-electric, high-energy laser weapon known as the Layered Laser Defense (LLD) to defeat a target meant to represent a subsonic cruise missile in flight.

A Navy statement on the LLD test describes the trial: "[LLD] was designed and built by Lockheed Martin to serve as a multi-domain, multi-platform demonstration system. It can counter unmanned aerial systems and fast-attack boats with a high-power laser -- and also use its high-resolution telescope to track inbound air threats, support combat identification, and conduct battle damage assessment of engaged targets."


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