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Unmanned Combat Vehicles (UCV)

Testing using scale models have demonstrated the potential of programmable, or mission reconfigurable, unmanned underwater vehicles operating in concert with a submarine. Such underwater unmanned vehicles, referred to as Unmanned Combat Vehicles (UCV's) are hydrodynamically and stealth shaped, and provide an extended sphere of influence for the submarine. Current battle scenarios call for submarine operation in the littoral area. With the shallow depth and generally heavy surface ship traffic in littoral areas, the submarine becomes extremely vulnerable to hostile attack. The UCV can provide detailed intelligence, surveillance and environmental data to the submarine without the need for the submarine to enter the littoral area.

Advanced weapons systems on contemplated UCV's make the platform an excellent standoff weapon system. Artificial intelligence and neural network processing capabilities allow the platform to operate autonomously when provided with general mission requirements and boundaries. In terms of submarine use, a number of UCV's may be attached to the submarine, each independently launched on a mission and returned to the sub at the completion of the mission. However, in a hostile engagement scenario, the weapons systems aboard the platforms may be depleted. No method or system exists to replenish or reload fully equipped UCV's at the submarine. Such a method and system for replenishing the weapons systems during such an engagement would greatly enhance survivability of the submarine and its crew.

One method consists of providing one or more UCV's in addition to those attached, or dedicated, to one particular submarine. These additional UCV's are either pre-positioned, surface launched, or air launched to rendezvous with a submarine in need of additional tactical capabilities. In the pre-positioned mode, the additional UCV's are placed at strategic locations in the general vicinity of a potential conflict. As an example, UCV's may be located at U.S. overseas military bases or friendly ports about the Persian Gulf. If a conflict is imminent, the UCV's may also be positioned in well-concealed underwater locations near the conflict area. In the pre-positioned mode, the UCV's are in a standby status awaiting instructions or programming. However, the sensor suites aboard the UCV's may remain active to provide a sensor network near or within the conflict area. This network may be used by surface, airborne, or other platforms to provide increased surveillance in the area.

Surface or air launches of the UCV's may be accomplished during a conflict, or at other times when pre-positioning the UCV's near or within the conflict area would present too great a risk. A launch from a surface ship may be accomplished from a position well removed from the conflict area. The launch can easily be accomplished in a covert manner and the UCV can travel virtually undetected to the conflict site. A launch from an aircraft would not be as covert, but may be necessary where time for replenishment is critical.

The additional UCV's are programmed to search for and locate the submarine to be resupplied. This can either be accomplished using signals broadcast from the submarine, communications between the submarine and the UCV's, or using UCV internal navigation systems and a last known position for the submarine. Signals and communications may include electromagnetic or acoustic singles and communications. Once located, communication between the submarine and UCV allows docking of the UCV onto the submarine. To initiate resupply, a submarine may broadcast a signal either to one of the UCV's on standby, or to a central command. In a battle space environment, such external communication may not be possible. Thus, instead of returning to the submarine, depleted sub-launched UCV's may be programmed to proceed to a site where they can rendezvous or make contact with a standby UCV, central command, or other platform. Once contact is made, the replenishment UCV can be launched. In a still further scenario, a depleted UCV returning to the submarine may be reprogrammed at the submarine to search for and locate a specific UCV having the ordnance (torpedoes, missiles), countermeasures, sensors, or communications hardware most needed by the submarine. The submarine can also dispatch the UCV to proceed to the contact site as noted above. It can be seen that the method envisioned in the disclosure requires a system of UCV's traveling in and out of the battle space as required, rather than UCV's confined to operation in concert with a single submarine.




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