THE PENTAGON – The Navy is standing up a continual improvement process for its family of unmanned underwater vehicles, in the hopes of bringing better sensors, endurance and more to the newly expanded portfolio of UUV’s that fall under the undersea warfare division (OPNAV N97).
With all UUVs moving under N97, including the mine warfare systems previously housed under the expeditionary warfare division (OPNAV N95), an opportunity exists to leverage research dollars, lessons learned and more amongst a larger set of UUV systems, N97 acting director Brian Howes told USNI News in a Nov. 15 interview.
“In the past we have focused on a mission and then designing an unmanned undersea vehicle to match that mission. As we have gone to this family of systems approach, we realize it’s not just about one vehicle – it’s about, there are common attributes amongst a class of vehicles, whether it is propulsion, whether it’s autonomy, command and control, the endurance and reliability. All of those attributes span all the vehicles,” Howes said.
“So instead of having one program office that designs a unique vehicle, we’re going into a common approach that then takes, what is the mission, what do we already have in other vehicles that we can apply to this, and get it out into the fleet faster. So if you look at the mine warfare vehicles, which N97 will become the resource sponsor for, very common attributes for what we use far forward in addition to mine warfare: they have very good sensors, they have good autonomy, they have endurance, and there is a need for both mission types to increase their capability in those areas. So instead of having individual groups ask for improvements, we can then go as the sole resource sponsor to ONR, to DARPA, to industry and say, here’s the demand signal to improve endurance writ large for all of our vehicles.”
Howes said the Navy is currently setting up a formal mechanism for determining fleet demands and determining how to spend available resources to research and develop those needed capability upgrades.
“Our submarine combat system approach for open architecture is the Submarine Warfare Federated Tactical Systems, SWFTS. We have a process where we are continually improving our combat systems on a two-year hardware update and then a two-year software update. The method which we determine how we’re going to update that and what the capabilities are that we increase is a fleet, OPNAV and [Naval Sea Systems Command] collective, we call it the Submarine Tactical Requirements Group. We use that body in order to determine the highest capabilities and where our next resources should go,” Howes explained.
“We’re going to use that model for UUVs. So we will bring the stakeholders together from all the communities and collectively determine what the next capabilities we need for our family of vehicles are, whether it’s by community or in general for UUVs, and focus our resources on that so we’re meeting the fleet needs. We’re just now starting to stand up that process.”
Howes noted that that process would be aided by the work of the first UUV squadron, which was stood up in Keyport, Wash., in late September. UUVRON-1 operators will provide user-level feedback to N97 to help shape requirements for future upgrades.
Due to the family of systems setup N97 has created – which lumps together future programs, in-development ones like the Orca Extra Large UUV and the Snakehead Large Diameter UUV, and mature programs like the Mk 18 Mod 2 that the explosive ordnance disposal community has used overseas for more than five years – “we will intend to do parallel improvements on all our vehicles.”