Washington: The Navy is beginning to make good on former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead bet that unmanned drones would be the future of the service.
Naval Sea Systems Command delivered the first mini-ship like drones to Navy Riverine Group One stationed at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek in Virginia on Nov. 1. The unmanned vessel, known as the Modular Unmanned Surface Craft Littoral, will be the main intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance drone for those forces, according to a command statement released today. The drone can be launched from the Navy’s fleet of small assault and patrol boats. Once underwater the drones will “real-time monitoring of suspicious vessels, personnel, and activity along waterways, shorelines, and under bridges and piers,” according to NAVSEA. Members of Riverine Group One will begin evaluating the drone’s performance and functionality in real-world combat environments, command officials say.
Roughead told members of the Association of Unmanned Vehicles International in August that surface and underwater drones would be the future of the Navy. The unmanned vessels will be key in supporting the Navy’s global strategic presence mission as the service moves into the Western Pacific and the Arctic regions, he said. Roughead took a number of steps to set the Navy up for this unmanned future before his retirement in September while warning that Navy red tape would continue to stymie plans to field sea-faring drones quickly. This new effort is no exception.
The new program office responsible for the Littoral Combat Ship spearheaded development of the new underwater drone. But there are no plans to include the new unmanned vessel on LCS, NAVSEA spokesman Chris Johnson told me. So why is the LCS program office developing a new seagoing drone it never plans to use on the ship? The answer is painfully bureaucratic.
The Navy office in charge of mine and littoral warfare had been in charge of the program, according to Johnson. That office ended up getting folded into the new LCS office when it was created in July and “some of the legacy, non-LCS related program offices stayed with the new [office],” he explained.
The new LCS office says it “delivers and maintains the systems, equipment and weapons necessary to dominate the littoral battle space and . . . coastal areas,” according to a NAVSEA statement. But the LCS office is already under great pressure to get the new warship out to sea. With all that focus rightfully being pushed into LCS development, how much attention will these drones really get inside the office? We will just have to wait and see on that question.