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Autonomous Vehicles in Support of Naval Operations
This chapter discusses the following topics: potential of USVs and UUVs for naval operations, the USVs and UUVs currently available or under development, naval operational needs and technology issues, and opportunities for improved operations. The committee’s conclusions and recommendations concerning USVs and UUVs are then presented.
THE POTENTIAL OF AUTONOMOUS UNDERSEA AND SURFACE VEHICLES FOR NAVAL OPERATIONS
Unmanned underwater vehicles already play a significant role in naval warfare—the most obvious example being the torpedo. In recent years, several developmental systems have reached levels of maturity at which they can be used in direct support of combat operations. The principal mission of these systems is reconnaissance—to provide environmental or countermine data.
Advantages of Current System Developments
Typically, USV and UUV systems provide significant standoff and clandestine capability. They can operate in fully or partly autonomous modes, but when operating autonomously they do not currently have adaptive or intelligent capabilities. They can carry out predetermined missions, providing optical or acoustic imagery and physical environmental data—such as information on temperature, salinity, depth, and currents, as well as optical properties. As the development of adaptive, and eventually intelligent autonomous, control capabilities become more mature, the potential for these systems to engage in cooperative autonomous behavior will grow, allowing groups of these vehicles to operate together as robust, fault-tolerant, and adaptive networks.
Both UUVs and USVs offer the potential for significant contributions to the conduct of naval warfare tasking, particularly when integrated with one another and with other manned and unmanned platforms, sensors, and communications nodes into a total FORCEnet system solution. The Department of Defense (DOD) and the Navy have recognized the utility of unmanned systems in recent operations, including Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in a number of fleet exercises as well. The Department of the Navy has an outstanding roadmap for the development of UUVs and is well along the path to their production and deployment. In addition, the Navy is currently evaluating the role of USVs, which at present do not have a history of operational experience comparable to that of UUVs.