Military Capabilities

USN seeks to regain competitive edge through unmanned systems

28 June 2017
USN reservists conduct post-flight checks on unmanned aerial vehicle during the Advanced Technology Exercise 2017 in Camp Pendleton, which showcased unmanned applications the USN is hoping to leverage in future concept of operations. Source: US Navy/Dawn Stankus

Key Points

  • USN is aggressively pursuing unmanned and autonomous technologies to hone a "decisive" competitive edge
  • Estimating risk and co-ordinating integration with human elements are a challenge

US lawmakers warned that the competitive advantage that the US military has eroded over the past few years, and increasing incorporation of unmanned systems in naval operational concepts could help the US Navy (USN) regain some of that qualitative and quantitative advantage.

"Our Navy and Marine Corps must be sufficiently sized and capable of projecting greater power over greater distances, from the air, the sea and beneath it," Senator John McCain, chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, stated on 15 June 2017. "We need new concepts of operations and new programs that enable them." For instance, McCain noted that the USN needed carrier air wing with greater range and striking power, especially through the use of unmanned platforms.

During a senate hearing on the posture of the USN, lawmakers also warned that future warfare out to about the next 10 years would change dramatically and in response, leadership from the Army Capabilities Integration Center were considering "the pros and cons" of autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous technology, and other new cutting-edge technologies that have the potential to transform "both sea and amphibious warfare" and "create opportunities, but also some tremendous challenges" for the future battlefield.

Chief of Naval Operation Admiral John Richardson stated highlighted that not only unmanned technologies, but also autonomous technology had "a number of uses" that the USN is aggressively pursuing, including unmanned undersea, unmanned surface, and unmanned aircraft applications. "I would say in addition to unmanned and related to autonomy is this idea of information warfare," Adm Richardson added, "and the role of information in - whether it's cyber, space, or whatever - [future warfare is] going to be a decisive difference."

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