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Navy Drafting Unmanned Systems Roadmap To Guide Resources

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency tests its Sea Hunter unmanned vehicle -- the technology demonstration vessel it designed, developed and built through its anti-submarine warfare continuous trail unmanned vessel program, or ACTUV -- in Portland, Ore., prior to an April 7 commissioning ceremony. DARPA photo.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency tests its Sea Hunter unmanned vehicle — the technology demonstration vessel it designed, developed and built through its anti-submarine warfare continuous trail unmanned vessel program, or ACTUV — in Portland, Ore., prior to an April 7 commissioning ceremony. DARPA photo.

The Department of the Navy is creating an Unmanned Systems Roadmap to help integrate unmanned technologies into existing Navy acquisition, programmatic and operational plans.

The roadmap was an early task for the office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Unmanned Systems, which was created one year ago along with the position of Director of Unmanned Warfare Systems (OPNAV N99). Retired Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Frank Kelley was tapped at this time last year to serve as the first DASN Unmanned Systems and spoke about the first year on the job today at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s (AUVSI) annual defense conference.

Kelley said the roadmap would not include program-level schedules or requirements but rather would recommend time and resource investment options to help the Navy integrate unmanned with the rest of its portfolio.

The DASN Unmanned office hosted three workshops to inform the roadmap. The first was held in May at the Naval War College, and Kelley said “we had to go out and sort of entice people to attend that workshop, tell them what we were doing, why it was important to the Department of the Navy.” That first workshop sought to understand how unmanned systems would be used in the 2030 timeframe.

After what he called a successful first meeting, “word had gotten around that not only was it good, credible, smart people … but that it was professionally run, it appears that this might have some impact on where the Department of the Navy was going to go in the future. So we had a lot of people that asked to attend” the second workshop, hosted in San Diego in July and focused on identifying technical, legal, ethical and policy barriers to achieving that 2030 vision.

For the final workshop, hosted at the Naval War College again in September and aimed at creating action plans to get around the identified barriers, “we almost had to hold a lottery,” Kelley said.

“The planning for this, the selection of people that were going to attend and participate in this workshop, because seating was limited, it was termed ‘wedding planning,’ and I’m telling you it got really tough,” he said, noting that his office had to turn away very smart and enthusiastic parties who wanted to join in.

NRL's XFC Sea Robin demonstration in August 2013. US Navy Photo

NRL’s XFC Sea Robin demonstration in August 2013. US Navy Photo

The Navy could not say when this unmanned roadmap would be released, but Kelley made clear it would be a first version and not a final version.

Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley “has told me this would be a living document, so that means there will be other workshops in the future, and one of the things we’ve discussed is that we’d really like to open that up to industry,” Kelley said.

Kelley said another early effort for his new office was to document “aggressive goals” for his office. In addition to aiming for air superiority, undersea superiority and surface dominance, Kelley said goals include fielding multi-domain unmanned systems – potentially an aerial vehicle that is launched from a tube in a submarine or undersea vehicle, or a robot that marches along the sea floor and then can continue marching up the beach and onto land – and achieving unmanned swarming capabilities.

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Categories: News & Analysis, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy
Megan Eckstein

About Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is a staff writer for USNI News. She previously covered Congress for Defense Daily and the U.S. surface navy and U.S. amphibious operations as an associate editor for Inside the Navy.