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Expanded complexity and scope mark first USN fleet exercise with unmanned systems

The US Navy will be mating manned and unmanned platforms and systems with greater complexity and scope than attempted in previous operations during April’s Unmanned Integrated ‘Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21’, said Captain Jeff Heames, commanding officer of Surface Development Squadron (SURFDEVRON) One, which supplied surface assets for the exercise.

Teaming manned and unmanned platforms is not new for SURFDEVRON One, Capt Heames noted on 23 April during a briefing on the eight-day ‘UxS IBP 21’, which started on 19 April.

“We have done this in the past with many unmanned systems,” he said. “But the level of complexity we’re taking under ‘UxS IBP 21’, it’s representative of what we might experience in the future.”

For example, while SURFDEVRON One has been operating the Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vessels (MUSVs) Sea Hunter (SH1) for some time, the MUSV Seahawk (SH2) is a new addition, and both MUSVs are being operated simultaneously, Capt Heames noted, “using a variety of modalities to control those vessels”.

“And when you overlay all the other unmanned systems involved in ‘[UxS] IBP 21,’, all happening concurrently, all needing to be synchronised and integrated into a coherent warfighting ability, that’s the order of magnitude difference,” he said.

The exercise has featured a wide range of manned and unmanned platforms operating above, on and below the sea surface, including Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001).

With the exercise, SURFDEVRON One is looking to develop confidence in autonomy used on unmanned vessels, Capt Heames said, adding that he wants to see improved unmanned endurance, responsiveness, and network connectivity, as well as International Regulations for Preventing Collisions (COLREGS) compliance.

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