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Underwater Unmanned Vehicles UUV

Increasing budgetary constraints and the shrinking number of submarines will continue to stretch the asset base for submarine operations. It is necessary that each new planned submarine platform be capable of operating in a wide variety of hostile environments. The advancing technology of hostile forces also provides for a far more quiet and capable threat to undersea operations and decreases threat recognition and reaction times. The risk of more regionalized threats increases the need for shallow water, or littoral, operations. The shallow water and land/sea interface increase sonar noise and reverberation levels, making the littoral environment a cluttered one for underwater operations. In addition, the coastal environment is a high traffic area which may include both friendly and neutral players as well as hostile forces. The intrusion of a large submarine platform into these waters not only creates threats to ongoing friendly and neutral traffic and shipping interests, but, due to its large draft, may also incur a greater risk of detection for the submarine platform as well as increased risk to platform personnel. Further, the draft of the submarine platform may be too great for operation in many littoral areas of interest. The use of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV's) provides a unique means for a submarine to extend its reach and sphere of influence in this type of environment.

Current UUV's, however, lack the capabilities needed for successful multi-mission operation as a forward deployed submarine adjunct. Used mainly in exploratory research, or single mission operations, these vehicles lack the autonomous operation, on board processing, communications and offensive and defensive weapons capabilities needed to realistically extend the tactical sphere of influence.

For example, an unmanned submarine vehicle may be used for bottom dredging, nodule collection, pelagic fishing, or raising of submerged bodies. For each mission, the routing of the vehicle must be preprogrammed into the vehicle or directly controlled from a mother ship. Such preprogramming or direct control limits the use of the vehicle to controlled, or well known environments and would make the vehicle ineffective in a littoral arena where conditions may be constantly changing.

Current submarine launched torpedoes are another well known example of single mission, unmanned, underwater vehicles. While torpedoes may incorporate sophisticated guidance technology with which to track changing targets, there use is limited to the single mission for which the guidance technology is programmed. Other possible platforms for extending a tactical sphere of influence include remotely operated vehicles (ROV's). However, ROV's require constant tether with the mother ship which may limit the range of operation and may not be possible during a hostile engagement.

The autonomous platform is designed to be an adjunct to a submarine or other host vessel. When required, the internal data processors are directed to perform a mission, e.g., sweep an area for minefields, and the platform is launched from the host vessel. Based on the mission and observed data, the internal data processor, acting through artificial intelligence programming, directs the autonomous platform in the independent completion of its mission and communicates whenever necessary with the host vessel, providing the host vessel with the latest data to be integrated into the subsurface, surface and satellite total tactical picture. Status updates, mission changes, or weapons launch decisions can be directed from the mother ship, but the platform has decision making capabilities such that communication with the host vessel is not required for successful operation of the platform.

Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) Master Plan

Building upon a vision first published in 2000, in 2004 the US Navy released an updated Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV) Master Plan. The new master plan offers detailed insight into nine capabilities that analysts have associated with UUVs: intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; mine countermeasures; anti-submarine warfare; inspection and identification; oceanography; communication and navigation networking; payload delivery; information operations; and time-critical strike. With unmanned systems gaining importance across all domains, the Navy's 2004 UUV Master Plan details the road ahead for defining the capabilities of four new classes of undersea vehicles, and the operational contributions these vehicles bring to enhance the nation's maritime dominance. Of particular interest to the science and technology community and to industry, the new plan also evaluates areas for continued investment in areas that will realize the once-futuristic vision of UUV operations.

The Navy has conceived four classes of UUVs, each offering advantages in the nine capability areas. The four classes include man-portable vehicles weighing less than 100 pounds; lightweight vehicles of 500 pounds; heavyweight vehicles of 3,000 pounds; and large vehicles weighing 20,000 pounds. These classes of UUVs will evolve as workhorses of the fleet, deploying and retrieving sensors and other devices; gathering, transmitting, and acting on all types of information; and engaging submarine, surface, air, and even land targets.

As a guide for the military and its industry partners, the UUV Master Plan provides a strong case for a balanced investment in technologies to reduce acquisition risk and speed the development of new capabilities. Key technologies include energy-efficient power supplies and reliable autonomous behavior and navigation algorithms. The plan also alludes to investment opportunities in sensors, communications, and data processing payload packages.

Looking to the future, the Navy will expand the roles of unmanned systems, teaming with other platforms and systems in mine warfare operations and other high-risk activities associated with shaping the battle space. For example, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, UUVs worked alongside Marine Mammal Systems and other coalition-force assets to clear mines from the approach lanes of the Iraqi port, Um Qasr. Newly maturing technologies may provide more advanced UUVs with the ability to detect, classify, and neutralize mines from a single vehicle.

Unmanned systems across all operational domains are becoming mainstays for building a joint-force intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance architecture. Data acquired from this architecture are key elements of Chief of Naval Operations ADM Vern Clark's concept for "persistent, pervasive" knowledge dominance in the littoral battle space and beyond. UUVs provide critical information for naval force protection and coastal and harbor monitoring, and in the future may be equipped to detect and localize weapons of mass destruction.

UUVs increasingly will support anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations, according to the new master plan. Various types of vehicles may be employed to "hold at risk" an adversary's submarine operations-by sensing and cueing joint-force and coalition platforms and weapon systems, as well as by providing long-term area monitoring. In the future, UUVs may be called upon to perform submarine track and trail - and perhaps even to attack targets.

The plan highlights another important, inherent capability of unmanned systems: that of serving as communication and navigation network nodes (CN3). The significance of this capability lies in the UUV's ability to act as a bridge interface between above-water radio communications, high-bandwidth, long-range networks, and lower-bandwidth, below-water transmission systems. As CN3, unmanned vehicles may provide additional redundancy for GPS and other position location systems. UUVs may also relay communication signals from various emitters-such as local radios and satellites-providing connectivity for forces operating clandestinely or in remote areas. As networking nodes, sharing and relaying data, UUVs may assist the Navy's submarine force in achieving communication capability "at speed and depth."

The Navy is also studying alternative offensive roles for UUVs, such as emitting jamming or false data transmissions into an adversary's command, control, and communications network. The UUV Master Plan also envisions the eventual development of UUVs armed with land-attack weapons to provide time-critical strike capability.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:58:06 ZULU