Home / Military / Doctrine & Strategy / US Navy “Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO),” strategy integrating diverse autonomous unmanned vehicles UUV, USVs, UAVs

US Navy “Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO),” strategy integrating diverse autonomous unmanned vehicles UUV, USVs, UAVs

The US Navy published a navigation plan to boost the war vessels to 500 by 2045 in the region citing “both a current and long-term challenge.” Reiterating that China is the central threat to the US Navy’s maritime dominance, the report says: “This is a critical decade. As global challengers rise to threaten US interests, America must maintain maritime dominance.”

China, it says, “is undermining international norms by staking illegal maritime claims, militarising geographic features in the South and East China Seas, and attempting to intimidate its neighbours out of their offshore resources”. “This aggressive behaviour threatens US interests and destabilises the rules-based system,” it adds.

China has tripled its naval fleet since 1990, enhanced its nuclear capacity and capability, and built a system of sophisticated sensors and long-range precision weapons to “hold US naval forces at risk”, the navigation plan points out.

The CNO Navigation Plan (NAVPLAN) was released in January 2021 that focussed on the American Navy’s efforts across four foundational priorities: Readiness, Capabilities, Capacity, and Sailors as a part of deterrence attempts. “This update builds upon that foundation, leveraging our progress to further strengthen the United States Navy’s warfighting advantage,” the US Navy said in its ambitious expansion plan. The new framework is the part of America’s strategy of “integrated deterrence,” it said.

US National Defense Strategy (NDS) clarified that America’s fleet expansion is in line with its national security objectives, emphasising the need to address long-term competition with China. US Navy plans to sustain military advantage against the military belligerence of Russia. It also introduced integrated deterrence as a unifying principle for the Department of Defense and supporting US Government agencies.

Emphasising the need for the Navy to become a hybrid fleet, the plan says the force will “add to our current fleet a host of manned, unmanned and optionally-manned platforms operating under, on, and above the seas”. “In the 2040s and beyond, we envision this hybrid fleet to require more than 350 manned ships, about 150 large unmanned surface and subsurface platforms, and approximately 3,000 aircraft,” it adds.

Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO)

The U.S. Navy has been pursuing a new Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept that will help redefine how the Navy fights and operates. This major operating concept will soon play a significant role in how the Navy organizes its future force development.  The Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept is extension of US Navy’s earlier Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) which aimed to transition to full integration of a force.


With CEC, an identical, real-time, fire-control quality picture of the surrounding battlespace is resolved in every connected unit. Before CEC, an Aegis ship could only engage a threat once that threat was detected by its own radar. With CEC however, if another ship or aircraft detects a threat, any ship in the CEC network can potentially engage that threat because it appears to that ship’s CMS that, “their radar is my radar.” At last not only were Aegis units in a local force internally integrated into a coherent whole, but the entire force was capable of behaving as a single, fully integrated CMS.


Early, proto-progress has already been made in this direction. For example, Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA), enabled by CEC, allows ships to engage air threats located far over the shooter’s radar horizon. CEC also enables the “Engage-on-Remote capability which allows one unit to launch defensive missiles against a threat prior to detection of the threat with that ships own sensors. Also, in-flight retargeting allows dispersed units to contribute to an in-progress kill chain ensuring that the data remains as current as is possible.


(Then) Rear Admiral Rodney P. Rempt, Director of Theater Air and Missile Defense on the Navy Staff, saw a more sophisticated future still. A future in which the Navy’s tactical grid would one day be understood as, simply put, an agnostic network of weapons and sensors, controllable by any number of nodes, and without regard to where those weapons or sensors or controlling nodes might be deployed or even in which unit they existed. In the future, if an inbound threat were to be detected, this agnostic, dispersed grid would determine which sensor(s) would be most appropriate, and then, when necessary, the system would pair the most capable and best located weapon with that sensor(s) in order to efficiently engage the threat.


In a nutshell, CEC operates in a fundamentally different manner than do classic data links like Tactical Data Links (TDL) that were designed to share each connected unit’s radar picture among all TADIL capable units in the local force.  Unlike TDLs, rather than sharing only highly processed symbology in a time-late and low granularity manner, CEC shares raw sensor data directly off a sensor’s buffers, unprocessed, and with such speed and volume that it appears to each every participating unit as if any netted sensor is an actual element of every other unit’s own Combat Management System (CMS).



Distributed Lethality to Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO)

The Navy’s Distributed Force Architecture would gradually phase out many of the large combatants — like aircraft carriers or submarines — in favor of a fleet of unmanned or partially manned surface vehicles. Just like the Marine Corps’ recent move to create a leaner force, the Navy’s push to restructure introduces new concepts that prepare it for potential conflicts. Large surface combatants, though capable, are too expensive, and projected flat defense budgets exacerbate the shipbuilding dilemma. Some may argue that these technologies are too immature to incorporate into the fleet. However, the Navy has been working on robotic technologies since the early 2000s.


The 2017 Surface Force Strategy describes Distributed Lethality as being composed of three tenants: Increase the lethality of all warships”: There is a clear tension between the undiminished, if not growing, mission sets assigned to surface ships, especially in light of the geographic demands associated with a return to Sea Control, and the total number of ships available.  The cruisers, destroyers, and frigates cannot be endlessly tied to High Value Units (HVU) whether those are amphibious ships or permanently constituted Carrier Strike Groups (CSG). Those ships must also have an ability to defend themselves, of course, but also a capability to strike hard in order to contribute to the larger mission of sea control. This suggests a compelling need to “upgun” these platforms, making them dramatically more capable both defensively and offensively.


DLTF director Cmdr. Kurt Sellerberg in July 2016 explained the task force “is placing a renewed emphasis on offensive sea control deriving from the simple truth that we cannot persistently project power from water space that we do not control. Sea control can no longer be assumed in an increasingly contested environment,” he continued, “and we need to think differently on how we seek to gain control of the sea––from the sea floor, on the waves, in the air, in space, and in the electromagnetic spectrum,” as reported by  Scott C. Truver.


Distribute offensive capability geographically”: This speaks to a wider dispersion of ships, in order to hold an enemy at risk from multiple attack axes, and force that enemy to defend an increased number of vulnerabilities, created by that dispersion. This point suggests what will become clear later, and that is the disaggregation of forces, which is part and parcel of DMO. So, in a genuine DMO environment, amphibious ships and aircraft carriers may be required to operate independently for periods of time.


Navy surface fleet leaders in early 2015 announced a new organizing concept for the Navy’s surface fleet called distributed lethality. Under distributed lethality, offensive weapons such as Anti Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) are to be distributed more widely across all types of Navy surface ships, and new operational concepts for Navy surface ship formations are to be implemented. The aim of distributed lethality is to boost the surface fleet’s capability for attacking enemy ships and make it less possible for an enemy to cripple the U.S. fleet by concentrating its attacks on a few very high-value Navy surface ships (particularly the Navy’s aircraft carriers), according to Congressional Research Service Report.


Distribute offensive capability geographically”: This speaks to a wider dispersion of ships, in order to hold an enemy at risk from multiple attack axes, and force that enemy to defend an increased number of vulnerabilities, created by that dispersion. This point suggests what will become clear later, and that is the disaggregation of forces, which is part and parcel of DMO. So, in a genuine DMO environment, amphibious ships and aircraft carriers may be required to operate independently for periods of time.


Give ships the right mix of resources to persist in a fight.” This point talks to an increase of defensive capability in ships, not only against kinetic threats, but also cyber and electronic warfare. Every ship must be a shooter and also every ship’s sensors must contribute to the larger network. Now all units become integrated, not only internally, but within the larger network, providing geometric synergies. In order to do this, it is essential that ships are able to send and received large amounts of timely and secure data as required, even when under cyber and electronic attack.


In December 2018, the CNO released, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 2.0. According to the CNO, this update more clearly aligned with both the latest National Security Strategy (NSS), released December 2017 and the supporting National Defense Strategy (NDS) of January 2018. The CNO called to “Continue to mature the Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept and key supporting concepts.


The Navy also planned for the new force structure to implement the evolving operational concept of Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) — having many sensors and shooters, widely dispersed, all linked through a network. This concept, with its implication for building more numerous, smaller, and more vulnerable platforms, breaks with the Navy’s previous operational concept that concentrated capabilities in a small number of extremely capable, but extremely expensive, carrier battle groups.


Although Navy surface ships have a number of means for defending themselves against anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), some observers are concerned about the survivability of Navy surface ships in potential combat situations against adversaries, such as China, that are armed with advanced ASCMs and with ASBMs,” observes CRS report: Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress.


Due to the curvature of the Earth, warships have hard time detecting low-attitude cruise missiles that can have a range of more than 100 miles. Sending a flotilla of drones ahead of manned ships, with their sensors at full power, would significantly increase a strike group’s protection, Navy officials say.


Therefore  US Navy wants to procure a number of unmanned drone warships that will operate on the open seas without any sailors. According to the report, the 90-metre, 2,000-tonne, corvette-sized vessels are designed to carry both sensors and weapons.  According to USNI News, the drone ships, which the Navy has already dubbed the Ghost Fleet, could find widespread use as an avant-garde of carrier strike groups.  Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told that $600 million shall be invested over the next five years toward unmanned undersea technology development. He further told sailors that variable size and variable payload unmanned undersea vehicles shall be developed that shall lead to  new capability of “distributed lethality,” defined by Carter as “making our ships and aircraft work together in ways that they haven’t before but technology makes possible.”   “So you’re going to see a fleet that is much more powerful, much more lethal, much more connected,” Carter said.


Unmanned systems like UUVs and USVs are central to Distributed force strategy. The drones will eventually be equipped with vertical launching silos for missiles themselves, capable of carrying anti-air defense missiles as well as offensive cruise missiles or anti-submarine weapons, PM reports. Considering these vessels will have no sailors, the command won’t hesitate to send them on missions too dangerous for a regular manned ship. So far, the US Navy has marked $400 million in its budget for the procurement of two 300-foot corvette-class drone ships, the report says, adding that currently, the US fleet has no corvette-class ships at all. The decision comes following the successful journey of the Sea Hunter drone from the US West Coast to Hawaii. The Sea Hunter was a much smaller ship than the planned drones, being only 132 feet long and weighing 140 tons.


Navy officials compare the Ghost Fleet initiative to another Navy idea to get aerial drones operating from the decks of US carriers. The Navy flew the Northrop Grumman X-47B UAV, an attack drone that looks suspiciously similar to Northrop’s B-2 Spirit bomber, off the USS Bush in 2013, and now plans to field at least eight MQ-25 Stingray aerial refueling drones by 2024.


Further, the Navy was tasked to: “Design and implement a comprehensive operational architecture to support DMO. This architecture will provide accurate, timely, and analyzed information to units, warfighting groups, and fleets. The architecture will include:

  • A tactical grid to connect distributed nodes.
  • Data storage, processing power, and technology stacks at the nodes.
  • An overarching data strategy.
  • Analytic tools such as artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), and services that support fast, sound decisions.


Not only will DMO aid in the attack, but it will be critical in the defense. DMO will stretch an adversary’s ISR capabilities as wider areas much be searched to find “Blue” forces. Perhaps more important, widely dispersed forces will hurt “Red’s” ability to mass fires on Blue as their forces much also be more dispersed (though not linked in the same way that is possible in a full instantiation of DMO).


UAVs will serve several primary needs in a DMO environment; sensors, weapons carriers, and communication assets. First, small UAVs with sensors can greatly expand the footprint of dispersed ships. And, if they are long duration, this footprint can be maintained around the clock. A good, early example of this type of UAV is the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle. ScanEagle carries a stabilized electro-optical and/or infrared camera on a lightweight inertial stabilized turret system, and an integrated communications system having a range of over 62 miles (100 km), and it has a flight endurance of over 20 hours. Subsequently, improvements to the original design added the ability to carry Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), infrared cameras, and improved navigation systems.


These UAVs can extend the attack reach of widely dispersed units. Today, the MQ-8B “Firehawk” is capable of carrying hellfire missiles, Viper Strike laser-guided glide weapons, and, in particular, pods carrying the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), a laser-guided 70 mm (2.75 in) folding-fin rocket. Depending upon the size of the flight deck, ranging from the very small in the case of LCS class ships to the larger flight decks in amphibious ships, like LPD class ships, the variety and capability of UAVs seems limited only by imagination.


DMO concept has also evolved to include Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV). Not only is the Surface Force activating a squadron aimed at USV experimentation and development, but it is also plain that the Navy intends to move into the USV world in a big way and in the near future. Evidently, these USVs will be divided into two primary classes: Medium-sized, which will be carriers of ordnance, and small-sized which will be sensor platforms, potentially of great variety.


Rear Adm. Casey Moton, program executive officer of unmanned and small combatants, speaking about the Navy’s new framework for future warfare, said: “USVs are the centerpiece for distributed maritime operations.” Moreover, he praised his office’s progress on research, noting the successful trials of the Overlord large USV and Sea Hunter vessels. He stressed that the unmanned program office had collaborated extensively with Naval Air Systems Command on leveraging unmanned technologies with ships.


The communications between these dispersed assets is also critical. The emerging DMO concept describes a force that operates without RF restriction, using two-way satellite communications, data links, and line-of-sight communications as well as radars. Without communications relay, the “distributed” part of DMO ceases to exist. As it stands today, Navy communications face a number of vulnerabilities, not the least of which is a reliance on commercial satellite channels. By lowering the connectivity grid from satellite level to long-endurance UAVs, the grid gains a redundancy that could make the difference between fighting the next war, “in the dark,” and fully realizing the potential of DMO.


Distributed Maritime Operations to progress with rapid software development

US-based SME Innovative Defense Technologies (IDT) has obtained a Small Business Innovation Research Phase III follow-on contract, worth up to $98.63 million, from the US Office of Naval Research to aid the development of software architecture for the Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept. In particular, IDT will work on ‘rapid and affordable software development’ for DMO, the DoD announced in a April 2022 contract notice. DMO is supported by Project Overmatch, which is the USN’s contribution to the DoD-wide Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) programme.


Unmanned Surface Vessel Division 1 (USVDIV-1)

In 2022, US Navy held  Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercises from June 29 to August 4 featuring the newly-created Unmanned Surface Vessel Division 1 (USVDIV-1), a US Navy unit tasked to “accelerate the delivery of credible and reliable unmanned systems in conjunction with increasingly capable manned platforms into the fleet,” the US Naval Institute reported. Lockheed Martin  demonstrates unmanned aircraft, surface vessel and undersea vehicle can complete a mission cooperatively and completely autonomously

In a testament to the versatility and adaptability that its unmanned systems bring to complex missions, Lockheed Martin  successfully launched Vector Hawk, a small, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), on command from the Marlin MK2 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) during a cross-domain command and control event hosted by the U.S. Navy. Lockheed Martin’s Vector Hawk is designed for canister or hand-launch in all-weather, maritime environments to provide customers with an organic, tailored intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability at the moment they need it.

Marlin MK2 is a battery powered, fully autonomous underwater vehicle that is 10 feet long with a 250 pound payload capacity, 18-24 hour endurance, depth rating of 1000 feet and weighs approximately 2,000 pounds. Its open architecture design and modularity allow new mission packages to be quickly integrated into Marlin to meet emerging customer needs.Also during the three-day event, Marlin surveyed a sunken barge with its 3D imaging sonar.

In addition to Marlin and Vector Hawk, the Submaran, an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) developed by Ocean Aero, provided surface reconnaissance and surveillance. All three autonomous vehicles—Marlin, Submaran and Vector Hawk—communicated operational status to the ground control station to maintain situational awareness and provide a means to command and control all assets.

From Lockheed’s announcement: During the Annual Navy Technology Exercise (ANTX) activities in August, the Submaran relayed instructions to Marlin from a ground control station via underwater acoustic communications. Following these instructions, the Marlin launched the Vector Hawk using a specially-designed canister from the surface of the Narragansett Bay. Following launch, Vector Hawk successfully assumed a mission flight track.

“This effort marks a milestone in showing that an unmanned aircraft, surface vessel and undersea vehicle can communicate and complete a mission cooperatively and completely autonomously,” said Kevin Schlosser, chief architect, unmanned systems technology, Lockheed Martin. “This signifies the versatility of Lockheed Martin’s unmanned systems to communicate seamlessly across domains to conduct a diverse set of missions in all environments. The capability is quickly reconfigured in the field,” said Schlosser. “In a short time, we enabled these systems to work together by rapidly changing sensor packages.”


L3Harris’ Sean Stackley on Supporting Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations Concept

Sean Stackley, president of the integrated mission systems segment at L3Harris Technologies and a previous Wash100 awardee, said L3Harris has technological capabilities from its predecessor companies that could be combined and help the Navy carry out its concept for distributed maritime operations, USNI News reported in August 2020.He told the publication in an interview that finding ways to manage the flow of information throughout the network is the key to achieving DMO.


He described the future fight as a combination of aircraft, ships, submarines and ground vehicles – manned and unmanned – all with sensors and communications devices, feeding data into a battle management system. The challenge will be the ordnance-to-target ratio and picking out the right targets to control the fight. Before the fight starts, the U.S. needs to ensure it has control of the EM spectrum so that network of platforms can communicate, sense and target.


“It’s really about linking sensors, providing assured communications, having the ability to disrupt the enemy’s communications in their operating picture. It’s everything from electronic support to electronic attack. … That is a tremendous challenge because you have to work across the services, work across the platforms, you have to work across industry, you have to work across systems. So there’s not one contract that’s going to go out for DMO; it’s going to be incremental. It’s going to be an incremental approach to building this capability over time, over systems. And frankly the Air Force and the Navy are taking different approaches. I think there are some best practices across the services that they’ll benefit by as each of these get more mature,” he explained, saying those were his personal views and not the company’s.  Stackley cited the need to look at the total framework architecture and integration of capabilities under DMO. He also noted that L3Harris is positioned to adapt to DMO’s evolving requirements given its capability to operate in every domain.


“I’m frankly studying the way the Air Force is approaching ABMS [Advanced Battle Management System], and I see a lot of strengths to their approach. There’s a lot of parallel activities to the way they’re contracting ABMS that should allow, if we do it right, should allow the incremental steps that need to be taken to be done in parallel as opposed to one at a time in a series. And I’m frankly also spending time with the Navy trying to link up the Navy’s approach to DMO with the Air Force’s approach to ABMS, to at least study – the services should be studying each other’s approaches – and best practices should emerge, because otherwise we won’t get there, it will take too long.”


For example, he said, the Navy is preparing to contract for a ship-based signals intelligence program called Spectral. It also has an upcoming competition for a SPEIR program for electro-optical/infrared targeting. Under DMO, Stackley said, those two could be approached in parallel to ensure the whole network has access to the data they produce, instead of pursuing them separately and waiting for someone down the line to integrate the systems into a larger network. “Traditional (acquisition) says you do the standalone upgrades; inside of DMO, you’re constantly looking at the total framework architecture, how do these capabilities integrate” on the front end “so that on the back end you are, in fact, building a distributed maritime operational capability,” he said.


Stackley said the company is positioned to adapt to the changing requirements of DMO. “We are on the ocean floor, and we operate from the depths of the sea to the depths of space. We are in every domain. We operate across the entire kill chain, from sensing, communications, tracking, targeting, right down to putting ordnance on target. We operate across the kill chain and across the entire electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. In the acoustic realm, we operate below 10 hertz, and then you move into the [radio frequency] and in the RF end of the EM spectrum we’re operating above 50 gigahertz. So we dominate – I would say spectrum superiority is one of our strengths. And we do this to provide capabilities, solutions, for national security, ours and our allies.”


The company’s advantage is based on “two companies a couple of years ago that had a large number of stand-alone capabilities seeing a match in terms of our separate capabilities, and also seeing the power that comes through integration of these capabilities, understanding where the customer is going in terms of the future fight where that EM spectrum, that spectrum superiority, is so critical. Whether you’re talking about the Navy’s strategy, the Navy’s vision for distributed maritime operations, or the Air Force’s advanced battle management system, it is the same capability the services are looking for, which is to have the advanced sensors at the forward edge, have the information that they collect communicated back through secure data links to platforms, have that information integrated into a common picture so that we can control the spectrum, we can ensure our communications, we can disrupt [adversaries’] communications, and we can pull the information from our sensors and get it to where it’s most needed so that when the time comes we can put ordnance on target rapidly and reliably,” Stackley said.


The two companies had different tools in their portfolios prior to the merger that contribute to this new ability to network together tools for fighting in the EM spectrum. For example, “Harris focuses on tactical communications, electronic warfare, space payloads and supports FAA air traffic control modernization. L3’s portfolio is a bit more diverse and includes electronic components, aircraft modernization, flight simulation, UAS/UUVs, airport security and C4ISR components and subsystems,” Defense News quoted Byron Callan, an analyst for Capital Alpha Partners, as writing in a note to investors ahead of the merger.


In the interview, Stackley used undersea warfare as an example of where L3 and Harris have been to provide the Navy options to support DMO. On the seabed, the company leveraged each of the halves’ legacy systems to create an underwater acoustic system that won a prime contract with the Navy – something neither L3 nor Harris could have done before the merger. “Within the first year, we’re offering integrated solutions to the customer that prior to the merger we would never have seen and would never have found together,” Stackley said.


The combined portfolio also includes experience with unmanned underwater vessels. L3Harris is competing for the Medium UUV program that will replace separate medium UUV systems for the explosive ordnance disposal and the submarine communities. Stackley said the company had an already-existing, highly modular design that allowed it to work with Navy labs to integrate and operate advanced payloads at sea while the Navy was developing its specifications for the MUUV program.



US Navy’s Deadly swarms

In 2014, US Navy conducted a two week exercise on the James River in Virginia, to test “Armed Escort” mission, in which 13 small guard boats escorted a large ship or a high-value unit (HVU). Multiple boats formed a security screen around the HUV. When a helicopter crew overhead spies a suspicious “enemy” boat that seems to be moving too close to the HVU it relays the message to boats. Detecting the enemy vessel with radar and infrared sensors, they perform a series of maneuvers to encircle encircle a vessel acting as a possible intruder.


The autonomous boats, then formed a protective line between the intruder and the ship they were protecting. The boats also can employ a continuum of force among against potential threats, including warnings from loud speakers and flashing lights, nonlethal weapons, .50-caliber machine gun, and a microwave, direct energy weapon.


One of the motivations for developing autonomous swarm capability, was to prevent attacks, like the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole (DDG-67) off the coast of Yemen, when a small boat laden with explosives was able to get near the destroyer and detonate, killing 17 Sailors and injuring 39 others.


The exercise demonstrated high level of Autonomous capabilities that have been enabled by advances in computer science, artificial intelligence, cognitive and behavioral sciences, machine training and learning, and communication technologies. Collaborative autonomy is an extension of autonomy that enables a team of unmanned systems to coordinate their activities to achieve common goals without human oversight. Autonomously coordinated unmanned systems may be capable of faster, more synchronized fire and maneuver than would be possible with remotely controlled assets. This trend will lead to a shift toward strategic decision making for a team of vehicles and away from direct control of any single vehicle.


Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) programme

As part of its roadmap for the future use of unmanned systems, the US Navy and Marine Corps is looking at deploying swarms of low-cost Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The Office of Naval Research has developed the Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) programme, which fires small UAVs from a tube-based launcher.  Swarms are mini or micro UAVs (or larger depending on the payload) acting in groups of at least three to five, as defined by Professor Chris Baber, chair of Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing at the University of Birmingham.


This is distinct from a group of UAVs, which are larger, up to the size of loitering munitions, and hold a pre-defined patrol pattern awaiting an order from a human operator. In contrast, swarm UAVs operate in a more autonomous and adaptable manner. As the term ‘swarm’ implies, many of the mechanics, doctrines and roles involved in the utilisation of these types of UAV derive from the natural world.


While Raytheon led the development of the Coyote and its launcher, L3Harris was the prime contractor for the datalink, and the Georgia Tech Research Institute at the Georgia Institute of Technology headed up work on the “autonomy software module.”


Under the Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (Locust) program, ONR  launched 30 Raytheon Coyotes (a tube launched electrically powered small UAV) from a ship off the coast of Florida, with the expendable UAVs rapidly forming a swarm and autonomously conducting a mission. The Coyotes  communicate among themselves using a low-power radio-frequency network, sharing position and other information. They will collaborate by forming a “parent/child” relationship, with one of the UAVs acting as the leader and the others as followers.


The UAV acting as parent may change depending on maneuvers, and the demo will look at how tightly they can formate, at what altitude and through what maneuvers. “It is the communication and/or awareness of each other that represents the major leap forward from remotely controlled and independent platforms to those that allow for collaborative behaviour,” explains Lee Mastroianni, project manager of LOCUST.


Managing the swarm requires a new approach to control: instead of remotely piloting a single drone, the operator manages the swarm. He describes how the operator’s interface will handle “aggregation” and “disaggregation”, his terms for drones joining or leaving the swarm. Swarms can be commanded to break them into different groups, or to send individual UAVs off to perform specific missions such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Locust is part of an effort to develop autonomy technologies that can be applied across surface, undersea and air domains, says Rear Adm. Mat Winter, chief of naval research.


The Pentagon announced in March 2021 that one of its offices has completed planned research and development work on a number of unmanned swarming technologies and has now turned them over to the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps to support various follow-on programs. The systems in question are the Block 3 version of Raytheon’s Coyote unmanned aircraft and an associated launcher, a jam-resistant datalink, and a software package to enable the aforementioned drones to operate as an autonomous swarm.


An MQ-9 Drone Is Teaming Up with a Navy Warship to Obliterate Targets at Sea

The U.S. Navy is pairing an MQ-9B Sea Guardian drone with a guided-missile cruiser capable of firing anti-air, anti-surface and anti-submarine missiles as a hunter-killer team in an unprecedented exercise testing new unmanned systems.  The medium-altitude drone is finding targets for the Cruiser Princeton to destroy during the Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem 21 exercise in April 2021.


“Using sonobuoys and other assets, the Sea Guardian identified contacts and reported locations remotely to the commander on board the cruiser,” “The integration between unmanned and manned capabilities shown today provides an operations approach to strengthening our manned-unmanned teaming,” Rear Adm. James Aiken, tactical commander of the unmanned exercise, said in the release. “Putting our newest technology into our Sailors’ hands directly enhances our fleet.”


The Navy is using seven unmanned technologies, including the Sea Guardian; the MQ-8B Fire Scout; the Vanilla ultra-long endurance, mid-sized drone; underwater and surface autonomous vehicles; and assets from the Naval research lab’s “super swarm” project.



Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing (CARACaS)

The Naval autonomous technology is based on the Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing (CARACaS) developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for controlling either a single autonomous robotic vehicle or multiple cooperating but otherwise autonomous robotic vehicles. CARACaS includes an integral combination of three coupled agents: a dynamic planning engine for re-planning in the face of changing goals, conditions, or resources, a behavior engine for deterministic reaction to unanticipated occurrences, and a perception engine.


The Perception Engine performs multisensory fusion of a 360 electro-optical system with an automated target recognition system called the Contact Detection and Analysis System (CDAS); a stereo electro-optical infrared (EOIR) system; a radar and automatic identification system (AIS). The perception and dynamic planning engines are also coupled with a memory in the form of a world model. The software is potentially applicable to diverse robotic systems that could include aircraft, spacecraft, ground vehicles, surface water vessels, and/or underwater vessels. The Navy has extensively tested CARACaS on USVs and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) over the last eight years.


Navy also held a demonstration on the Potomac River Test Range, where they employed information from unmanned ground vehicles and a ScanEagle unmanned aerial system that was relayed to an MK160 weapon system operator to engage fictitious threats. The Navy used a technology called Visual Automated Scoring System to instantly update and correct gun targeting. This kind of testing seeks to bridge a gap in interoperability between complex systems called the interstitial space and can improve targeting capabilities, according to a Navy press release.


Thus, Office of Naval Research (ONR) is on the way to develop an autonomous offensive swarming capability by integrating diverse unmanned vehicles like UUV, USVs, UAVs and UGVs not only to protect Navy ships, but also, attack hostile vessels.


Project Overmatch to implement  DMO

The Defense Department’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) strategy aims to connect sensors from all of the military services — Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Space Force — into a single network to share intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data to enable faster decision making. The change is needed because in a digital-driven world, decisions in future conflicts with degraded environments will have to be made swiftly, perhaps within seconds, say Pentagon officials.


Project Overmatch is the Navy’s effort to enable that all-connected force for the Pentagon’s priority plan of Joint All-Domain Command and Control, in which sensors and shooters are linked across domains. Rear Adm. Douglas Small, who leads the project, was named the direct report program manager in an October memo, and he reports to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.


Vice Adm. Jeffrey Trussler, the director of Naval Intelligence,  talked about  Project Overmatch, the Navy’s plan to develop a new fleet architecture using artificial intelligence and manned/unmanned teaming to enable Distributed Maritime Operations. “The Navy is a platform-centric service, big capital ships and submarines. That’s what we do, and it enables us to operate around the world 24/7/365,” Trussler said. “As we’ve gotten into the Information Age in the 21st century, the Navy has discovered, as have all the services, we ought to be able to connect those sensors and pass data seamlessly among each other.


“It’s not really a technological problem we have,” Trussler said, “our challenge in that technology is the legacy platforms and systems we have now,” and replacing them across a 298-ship Navy with software-defined radios and other digital systems.


The Project Overmatch DRPM will also be tasked with developing a unified approach to the data, infrastructure, tools and analytics “needed at the operational and tactical levels to execute DMO as envisioned.”


References and Resources also include:

About Rajesh Uppal

Check Also

Where Wind Whispers Power : World of Offshore Wind Farms andTechnology breakthroughs

As the world pivots towards sustainable energy solutions, offshore wind farms stand as towering sentinels, …

error: Content is protected !!