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Surface Navy 2021: Congressional oversight slows naval unmanned programme development, US Navy officials contend

Expanded oversight of unmanned programmes has kept the US Navy (USN) from moving more quickly on the development of certain platforms and systems, according to USN officials.

“We’ve been marked several times in that area,” USN Undersecretary Gregory Slavonic said on 13 January during a keynote speech at the virtual Surface Navy Association 2021 National Symposium, which started on 11 January. “We’re getting beat up,” he said.

Captain Pete Small, Unmanned Maritime Systems Programme manager, agreed on 13 January during another symposium session on unmanned naval systems and platforms. “They did slow our plans to develop LUSV [large unmanned surface vehicle] with VLS [vertical launch system],” he noted. “We understand what their concerns are.”

On one hand, according to Slavonic, there are congressional concerns about the USN to properly develop and maintain a new programme like its unmanned efforts, because of the USN’s history with certain other USN programmes, such as the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). “This administration had nothing to do with [the LCS programme].” Slavonic said. “We’re having to fix it, even though we didn’t have anything to do with it. You shouldn’t be held guilty for the sins of your parents.”

However, Slavonic acknowledged, US lawmakers have had specific issues with the current USN unmanned development plan. “I know the concern on [Capitol] Hill is modelling,” he said, “that we may not have done the best modelling.”

The USN, he added, is sending service experts to talk to appropriate Congressional committee members about the importance of unmanned systems for the USN. The service now plans a larger hybrid fleet in the coming decades of manned and unmanned platforms – a concept that had the approval of the outgoing Trump Administration and Pentagon leadership.

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