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Review of ONR's Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicles Program 1 Study Overview INTRODUCTION The Office of Naval Research's (ONR's) uninhabited combat air vehicles (UCAVs) program resides within ONR's Strike Technology Division (Code 351) of the Naval Expeditionary Warfare Science and Technology Department. It represents a new thrust, begun in FY99 with an investment of only $0.93 million of applied research (6.2) funds, and as such currently accounts for only a small fraction of the department's budget. Yet the projected capabilities of all forms of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are of undeniable interest for future war-fighting capabilities, and this seed activity may well be expected to grow significantly in the near future, given the right circumstances. In recognition of this potential, Navy interest and investments have increased significantly, with the almost simultaneous creation during the past year of a number of (currently) independent efforts within the Department of the Navy, all addressing UAV/UCAV issues. The specific ONR UCAV program under evaluation here is by far the smallest planned investment. After many years of experience with the Pioneer, the Navy's first UAV, the Program Executive Office for Cruise Missiles and UAVs (PEO (CU)) has awarded a contract for the engineering and manufacturing development of a new vertical takeoff and landing tactical UAV (VTUAV), suitable for operation from ships. Almost simultaneously, the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) issued a multirole endurance (MRE) UAV broad agency announcement (BAA). In addition, very recently, with the encouragement of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and approval from the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), active planning began for a joint DARPA/Navy advanced technology demonstration (ATD), known as UCAV-N, which will emphasize issues unique to the Navy but otherwise parallel and complementary to the existing ATD for the DARPA/USAF UCAV. Simultaneously, the Department of the Navy has decided to invest a large portion of its S&T funds in a series of 12 focused technology thrusts known as future naval capabilities (FNCs), several of which address UAV/UCAV issues. Coincidentally, the S&T representatives on the integrated product teams (IPTs) for the two FNCs that bear most directly on UAV/UCAV technology—the time-critical strike and autonomous operations FNCs —are from ONR 351, the same organization that is sponsoring the UCAV program under review here.
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Review of ONR's Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicles Program SCOPE OF AND APPROACH TO THE ASSESSMENT The objective of this review was to evaluate S&T issues relating to the ONR 351 program of existing and proposed UCAV 6.2 efforts in terms of their relevance to meeting future naval priorities, the cost and time scale for their utilization, duplication of effort, and overall scientific and technical quality. The FY99 6.2 funds ONR 351 had invested in UCAV technology were devoted to a systematic, well-executed, top-down planning effort. Supported by well-chosen, experienced systems and technology contractor teams, the planning efforts began with the postulation and analysis of candidate UAV/UCAV missions and goals and an initial partitioning of the solution space into three distinct tiers—high-, medium-, and low-altitude missions. Requirements derived from the resulting vision were provided to contractor teams in each of four critical technology areas (vehicle dynamics, communications/networking, sensors, and autonomy) so they could generate UCAV-critical technology roadmaps. The roadmaps were to identify unresolved UCAV technical issues, and the teams, in consultation with industry and government experts, were to evaluate the maturity of the individual technologies. The technology time lines would provide the basis for establishing specific ONR UCAV 6.2 S&T projects to be undertaken in future fiscal years. The committee evaluated the planning process and its results; that is, it looked at the quality, completeness, and relevance to future naval priorities of the UCAV vision presented and the validity and completeness of the derived technology requirements and the resulting technology roadmaps. Since the planning process was presented as a work in progress and had not yet resulted in specific FY00 6.2 project proposals, no comments could be made about specific planned projects. The committee's evaluation of the planning process could only be carried out in the context of all of the related, yet independent, DOD and Department of the Navy UAV activities: the Naval UAV ESG; the PEO (CU) VTUAV procurement; the NAVAIR MRE UAV BAA; an Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Kosovo-inspired UAV roadmap planning activity; the DARPA/USAF and Department of the Navy UCAV ATDs; and the Department of the Navy's FNC thrusts. Accordingly, briefings from DARPA, NAVAIR, OSD, and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations were solicited to obtain the necessary background information. The committee did not attempt in any way to evaluate or assess these parallel activities, although their potential impact on the ONR UCAV efforts under review are discussed below where appropriate. The implications of these related activities were considered in formulating the recommendations for ONR 351. FAVORABLE ASPECTS OF THE ONR 351 APPROACH (6.2) The initiative taken by ONR 351 to create a UCAV vision, mission scenarios, vehicle concepts, and technology roadmaps is significant and commendable. These elements could catalyze an integrated Navy/Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, and DARPA S&T program focused on UAV- and UCAV-enabling technologies, given the right circumstances. Although basic and applied research (6.1 and 6.2) program managers are often criticized for not taking a coherent systems point of view when defining their programs, establishing broad mission and systems requirements is generally not the responsibility of the S&T community. In this case, until very recently, the Department of the Navy's interest in UAVs had been minimal and the Navy Department's requirements community had not yet communicated an official long-term vision of what operational concepts UAV/UCAV technologies could enable in a future network-centric environment or what their advantages would be. The ONR 351 initiative attempted to fill this gap. A systematic process based on sound systems engineering principles was established and applied top-down to create a UCAV vision. From that vision, which was extremely ambitious and futuristic, requirements were derived and used to develop roadmaps that provide descriptions and timetables for critical technologies. ONR's definition of the term “uninhabited combat air vehicle” was broader than the usual definition. In ONR usage, the term covered all unmanned aerial vehicles in the battlespace, including those that are known today as UAVs (e.g., Predator, Pioneer, Global Hawk). While this is a reasonable definition, it contrasts with the more common usage, which thinks of UAV as the overall concept and UCAV as a weapons-bearing subset. The future vision presented thus potentially included all forms of UAVs, and ONR 351's term “UCAV” will be replaced
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Review of ONR's Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicles Program throughout this report by “UAV/UCAV.” Other references to UAV or UCAV appear when discussing activities outside the ONR 351 program, and in those cases the usual interpretation of the terms applies. In addition to defining UAV/UCAV broadly, ONR envisioned complete intelligent autonomy for both the near and far term, because discussions of human participation were minimal or nonexistent. This vision was judged by the committee to be unrealistic. It would perhaps be more reasonable to agree to exploit autonomy to the maximum degree possible at every stage of development, with appropriate levels of human involvement if the technology proves useful, cost-effective, and trustworthy. Trust (i.e., technical and operational reliability and the confidence placed in the reliability) is, of course, the most difficult attribute to achieve but mandatory for any UAV—particularly for UCAVs that are potentially both autonomous and lethal. Another favorable aspect of the ONR UAV/UCAV planning process was the excellence of the contractors selected to carry out the project. All were highly qualified. Most were well-known experts in their fields, combining broad military experience with commercial know-how. Mission conceptualization and analysis was headed by Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems, while the four critical technology areas emphasized— vehicle dynamics, communications and networking, sensors, and autonomy—were supported by Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems for fixed-wing and Bell Helicopter Textron for rotary-wing vehicles; GTE Laboratories and Bolt, Beranek, and Newman Technologies for communications and networking; the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) for sensors; and the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory for intelligent autonomy. A heavy reliance on qualified contractor teams for mission conceptualization and related maps and sequences is familiar today in other contexts through such major procurements as the next-generation surface combatant for the Navy (DD-21) and the DARPA/USAF UCAV ATD. Although only limited funding was available, probably less than $150,000 per contract, a good deal of progress was evident. Within the framework of its assumed vision, ONR attempted to identify all UAV/UCAV technology issues in each of the four technology areas and to point out those that were already receiving adequate attention from the community and those that were critical to UCAVs but were not receiving adequate attention. These were then translated into roadmaps, which recommended issues to be addressed in the near, middle, and far term by 6.1/6.2 S&T investments. ONR identified dynamic communication networking and intelligent autonomy as two of the most significant technical challenges in UAV/UCAV development. It was, in the opinion of the committee, largely correct in its assessment. The program team also concluded that most of the individual sensors already deployed or under development for manned aircraft would be adequate for UAV/UCAV application with little additional UAV-specific effort. What needed attention were the system and software implications of multisensor cooperation, dynamic networking, and autonomy. The committee also supports these conclusions. AREAS OF CONCERN For ONR's Strike Technology Division In spite of the many favorable aspects of ONR 351's UAV/UCAV planning exercise, the primary concern of all the committee members was that both the vision and the technology roadmaps were incomplete. The vision remains incomplete in several important ways: many critical stakeholders are not represented; the view of the future is extreme in its assumptions about the role of autonomy; only a limited subset of possible UAV/ UCAV options was considered; and the consequent structuring of UAV/UCAV configurations into three tiers by altitude may be premature. The resulting vision is not the Department of the Navy's or even ONR's. It is ONR 351's vision, and while it points in the right direction, it needs more Navy and Marine Corps user inputs as well as certification and buy-in from the appropriate requirements and procurement organizations of the Department of the Navy. As mentioned, the committee believed the vision was unrealistic in projecting complete intelligent autonomy as the goal of all future UAV/UCAV systems. However, many members believed that while this idealized condition may never be realized in practice, it does provide a worthwhile challenge and a useful direction in which to point R &D efforts. Whether the final goal is realistic or not, progress toward it will almost certainly result in
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Review of ONR's Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicles Program products applicable to the nearer-term human-machine configurations more commonly envisioned. The critical issues and UAV/UCAV technology deficiencies identified by ONR as it considered this ambitious UAV/UCAV vision seem to be generally correct—although certainly incomplete —and will be useful in guiding the selection of focused, near-term 6.1/6.2 technology projects for today and tomorrow. Clearly, ONR 351 should have showed a greater awareness of the human-machine trade-offs than was evident from the presentations. Another deficiency lies in the fact that only high-performance, relatively expensive options were considered. Many interesting possibilities did not seem to have been included: among those missing were micro-UAVs or the high-dynamic possibilities associated with eliminating the g-limitations imposed by human presence in the vehicles. The high-performance vehicles being explored were classified based on mission altitude, and this classification was made an integral part of the vision. This freeze on options was probably premature given the many other factors that should have been considered—stakeholders, other missions, mini/ micro or other low-cost possibilities, and so forth. The resulting vision was not unreasonable but was certainly incomplete. Even if these deficiencies of the ONR vision are disregarded and the vision is judged to be valid, the corresponding roadmaps are incomplete. The individual technology teams appear to be well qualified and did excellent analysis as far as they went, but the roadmaps are clearly unfinished from the standpoint of near-term details. Much of this was no doubt the result of the constraints on time and funding. The roadmaps, and indeed the vision itself, are clearly a work in progress. A final challenge facing the ONR UAV/UCAV program is the many competing and better-funded UAV-related thrusts that are starting at the same time: for example, the PEO (CU) VTUAV procurement; the NAVAIR MRE UAV BAA; the DARPA/Navy UCAV-N ATD; and the two relevant Department of the Navy FNCs (time-critical strike and autonomous operations). With the exception of the PEO (CU) and NAVAIR programs, three of these competing activities have substantial ONR 351 participation. The S&T representatives for both FNCs, as well as the individuals responsible for this UAV/UCAV thrust and the UCAV-N ATD, are members of ONR 351. Under these circumstances, particularly as ONR must support the Department of the Navy-mandated FNCs partially out of its existing funding, there will be serious competition for resources, in terms of both money and people, and this small effort could well vanish. For the Department of the Navy Dynamics of Naval UAV/UCAV Efforts In strong contrast to the level of activity in the recent past, the Department of the Navy suddenly finds itself engaged in many UAV/UCAV multiyear projects, with funding ranging from several million dollars per year for ONR 351's proposed UAV/UCAV effort to tens of millions of dollars per year each for the VUAV procurement, the UCAV-N ATD, and the two individual FNCs. Given the success of the Air Force' s Predator UAV in Kosovo and the potential capabilities of future UAV/UCAVs, the Department of the Navy's increased interest in the technology is not unreasonable. Unfortunately, however, those programs were all created independently, by different organizations acting in relative isolation and for different reasons, without the benefit of an agreed-on, formal vision for UAVs/UCAVs. The Navy and Marine Corps need such a plan—a plan with a coherent vision of the future of UAVs. A single, focused naval UAV thrust must be articulated so that these multiple programs can be coordinated and made as complementary as possible to maximize the benefits of the investments. Such a plan does not seem to exist today. The UAV/UCAV thrust under review here could serve as a starting point for the plan. Program Uncertainties versus “Big” Dollars for UCAVs/Future Naval Capabilities ONR 351's futuristic UAV/UCAV vision, while admirable, systematic, and technically aggressive, anticipates only modest levels of activity: it is requesting $2 million to $4 million per year in UCAV 6.2 funding in the next few fiscal years.
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Review of ONR's Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicles Program The VTOL UAV and UCAV-N are both near-term programs that address important naval UAV issues of how to permit a UAV/UCAV to operate from a ship, but they pay minimal attention to maximizing the benefits of autonomy. Both, for practical reasons, will inevitably be implemented with today's concepts and technology and are supported by large budgets of tens of millions of dollars per year or more. The FNC thrusts are intended “. . . to provide critical mass investments . . . leading to transition of key enabling technologies.”1 Twenty percent of the FNC funding is targeted for the 2001-2003 time frame, with the rest aimed further out. As such, the two relevant FNCs, time-critical strike and autonomous operation, seem to complement ONR 351's UAV/UCAV intentions rather well, but both are broader in scope than UAV technology alone; current plans appear to be to fund them very well ($30 million to $50 million per year each). Given the very large imbalance in funding and the competition for resources engendered by the heavy colocation of multiple UAV/FNC responsibility in the ONR 351 organization, there is a real danger that the small grass-roots UAV/UCAV thrust begun last year could simply vanish. Given as well the uniqueness of the ONR 351 long-range vision and systematic approach, and the potential value of what ONR 351 is attempting, it does not seem desirable to simply permit this effort to die. It should, instead, be recognized as a valuable resource and should be coordinated, transformed, and completed, to allow it to serve as the basis for (or at least a major contributor to) the development of an official naval UAV vision of the future and a technology roadmap. The committee believes that the Department of the Navy needs to create a UAV/UCAV master plan that is more comprehensive than the current ESG plan, that includes an S&T component as well as system concepts, and that explicitly acknowledges the existence of UAV/UCAV plans and programs outside the Department of the Navy. Perhaps, as suggested above, the ONR 351 effort could ultimately catalyze an integrated Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, and DARPA S&T program for UAV/UCAV-enabling technologies. 1 Gaffney, RADM Paul G. II, USN, Director, Test and Evaluation and Technology Requirements. 1999. Future Naval Capabilities Fiscal Guidance —Information Memorandum, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, N91, The Pentagon, Washington, D.C., November 23.
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