Autonomous vehicles (AVs) have been used in military operations for more than 60 years, with torpedoes, cruise missiles, satellites, and target drones being early examples.1 They have also been widely used in the civilian sector—for example, in the disposal of explosives, for work and measurement in radioactive environments, by various offshore industries for both creating and maintaining undersea facilities, for atmospheric and undersea research, and by industry in automated and robotic manufacturing.
Recent military experiences with AVs have consistently demonstrated their value in a wide range of missions, and anticipated developments of AVs hold promise for increasingly significant roles in future naval operations. Advances in AV capabilities are enabled (and limited) by progress in the technologies of computing and robotics, navigation, communications and networking, power sources and propulsion, and materials.
As a result of its deliberations, the Committee on Autonomous Vehicles in Support of Naval Operations developed a number of findings. Among the most
significant of the findings is the recognition that many naval requirements can be fulfilled, at least in part, by AV systems already in the inventory or under development by other Services. Hence, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps should collaborate with other Services to take maximum advantage of both operational systems and systems in various stages of development. Also, the Naval Services should form an effective partnership between the operational and the technology development and production communities and develop an effective process for embracing joint and commercial programs in order to aggressively exploit existing autonomous systems and new technologies.
The committee finds that it is important to put existing AV systems in operational situations in order to give personnel experience with the systems’ capabilities, and then to develop requirements based on this experience. In particular, since the operational utility and military worth of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been demonstrated in recent military operations, it is essential that the Naval Services accelerate the introduction and/or fully exploit the capabilities of those UAV systems, from all of the military Services, that are now in production, or that have completed development.
It is also evident that there are some unique requirements for which the Naval Services must develop technologies that are not being pursued by other Services or by the civilian sector. Thus, it is important for the Navy to pursue the development of critical autonomous vehicle-related technologies considered essential to the accomplishment of future naval missions. The progress of these developments needs to be tracked year to year.
In its deliberations, the committee also found significant deficiencies in command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) that now limit the utility of AVs. Therefore, it is essential that the Department of the Navy formulate and execute a comprehensive plan to eliminate these C4ISR deficiencies.
A final significant finding is that an AV’s level of autonomy is an important system variable that should be included, from the outset, in the development of AV systems. Hence it is important for the Department of the Navy to mandate that the level of autonomy be stipulated as a required design trade-off in autonomous vehicle development contracts.
The following sections elaborate on these significant findings and provide the committee’s detailed recommendations.
ACCELERATE THE INTRODUCTION OF EXISTING AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES
Operational experience with current autonomous vehicles—especially with such UAVs as the Predator, Global Hawk, and special-purpose systems used during recent conflicts—has demonstrated that, once they are employed by
warfighters, the value of AVs becomes immediately evident and strong advocacy begins to build. Hence, an important strategy to increase involvement of the Naval Services with AVs is to accelerate the introduction or exploitation of those systems that are in production, or in the later stages of development, and judged to have significant operational utility for naval missions.
The Navy views its future use of unmanned aerial vehicles to be primarily in three categories:
Long-dwell, standoff intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), as exemplified by the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) concept and the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD);
Carrier-based, penetrating surveillance and suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD)/strike Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS); and
Ship-based tactical surveillance and targeting, which call for a vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) system that can operate from a variety of ship types.
In reviewing the Navy’s progress toward realizing this three-category future, with respect to UAVs, the committee noted that the Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)/Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicle-Navy (UCAV-N) program has transitioned into a combined effort with the Air Force along the lines of the Joint Strike Fighter program.
The road ahead seems unclear for the long-dwell, standoff ISR system. The committee noted the near-concurrency of the GHMD and contract award for the BAMS UAV, and thus it remains concerned that lessons from the Global Hawk demonstration might not be reflected in the BAMS program.
At present the Navy has no capability for ship-based tactical unmanned aerial vehicles (TUAVs) and organic ISR. There are, however, plans that link the Fire Scout vertical-takeoff-and-landing TUAV (the VTUAV) with the nascent Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) as the latter begins to enter operational service after 2007. Here the committee is concerned that the introduction of a sea-based tactical surveillance and targeting capability in the fleet, which could begin with the Fire Scout as early as 2005, now appears to be tied to the development of a new ship class not scheduled for initial operating capability until after 2007.
The Marine Corps envisions three levels of UAV support for its warfighters operating from the sea or ashore in Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs). At the theater level, the MAGTFs will rely on national systems as well as on information derived from the Global Hawk and Predator. At the tactical level, the Marine Corps plan is for MAGTFs to continue relying on the Pioneer for operations ashore until it is replaced by a TUAV system suitable for use from both sea and land bases. At the lower tactical unit level, the Marine Corps’s TUAV need is to be satisfied by the human-portable Dragon Eye UAV system.
The committee believes that ship-capable tactical unmanned aerial vehicles need to be introduced into the Naval Services without further delay—and since the Fire Scout is the only such system currently available, the Navy can move immediately to acquire a small force of Fire Scouts to develop operational concepts and tactics. Further, to facilitate an accelerated introduction of the Fire Scout into the fleet in 2005, a VTUAV tactical development squadron should be formed by the Navy and the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard invited to participate. Since the Army has selected the Fire Scout for its Future Combat System (FCS), the Army needs to be invited to participate as well.
Finally, the committee concludes that the Naval Services should begin the selection of a growth VTUAV capability, which may include a tilt-rotor variant, or other suitable VTOL systems under development by DARPA (e.g., A-160 Hummingbird, unmanned combat armed rotorcraft, or X-50 Dragonfly canard rotor wing), as the principal, sea-based TUAV of the future.
Recommendation 1: The Navy and Marine Corps should aggressively exploit the considerable warfighting benefits offered by autonomous vehicles (AVs) by acquiring operational experience with current systems and using lessons learned from that experience to develop future AV technologies, operational requirements, and systems concepts. Specifically:
1.1 Accelerate the Introduction of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The Navy and Marine Corps should accelerate the introduction, or fully exploit the capabilities, of those unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems of all of the military Services that are now in production or through development and judged to have significant operational utility, such as the Global Hawk, Predator, Shadow 200, Fire Scout, and Dragon Eye. Concurrently, the two Services should move vigorously to eliminate or significantly mitigate deficiencies in the equipment and infrastructure of command, control, and communications (C3) and imagery-exploitation systems that limit the use of the aforementioned UAV systems. It is important for the naval operational community to develop the operational concepts and create the operational pull necessary to accelerate UAV introduction.
1.2 Accelerate the Introduction of Unmanned Undersea Vehicles. The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) should direct the Commander, Fleet Forces Command, to deploy and evaluate systems such as the Long-Range Mine Reconnaissance System, the Remote Minehunting System, and the Remote Environmental Monitoring Unit System in order to refine concepts of operations, cost issues, logistics, and handling.
1.3 Accelerate the Introduction of Unmanned Ground Vehicles. The Office of Naval Research should support continued research into the use of un-
manned ground vehicles (UGVs) as a potential solution to the mapping and clearance of surf zone and beach mines, and into UGV alternatives to unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance missions in support of shore bombardment. Testing and development of the Gladiator and Dragon Runner should be increased in order to refine the capabilities of both systems. Partnering by the Navy and Marine Corps with the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System program in research and development efforts to develop UGV components should be encouraged by the Navy and Marine Corps.
1.4 Develop a Long-Dwell, Standoff Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System. The Navy should aggressively pursue the development and fielding of a long-dwell, standoff intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) UAV system along the general lines of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) concept and formally join the Navy with the Air Force to develop, procure, and operate a common high-altitude, long-endurance UAV system suitable for both overland ISR and BAMS maritime missions. In their joint approach, the two Services should increase the system production rate above that now planned in order to realize operational and cost benefits. They should also explore the potential for a joint arrangement with the Department of Homeland Security and its agencies. The current EA-6B (Prowler aircraft) program should be considered as an initial Memorandum of Agreement model.
1.5 Evaluate a Vertical-Takeoff-and-Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) System on an Accelerated Basis. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisition) should support a limited procurement of Fire Scout systems to provide the fleet in the near term with a modern, automated, ship-based, vertical-takeoff-and-landing UAV for developing operational concepts and requirements for a future naval VTUAV system and to serve as a contingency response resource. To facilitate the accelerated introduction of the Fire Scout into the fleet in 2005, a VTUAV tactical development squadron should be formed by the Navy and the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard should be invited to participate. Since the Army has selected the Fire Scout for its Future Combat System, the Army should be invited to participate as well.
1.6 Develop Future Sea-Based Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Requirements. The Navy and Marine Corps should jointly develop requirements for a future sea-based tactical UAV system that will meet the needs of the Marine Corps’s Ship-to-Objective Maneuver concept afloat and ashore and is suitable for employment on a variety of ship types—the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and future destroyer (DD(X)) as well as current surface combatants and amphibious ships. The requirements should reflect lessons gleaned from future Fire Scout
operations as well as developments of the Coast Guard’s Eagle Eye, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency/Army A-160 long-endurance helicopter, and other advanced vertical-takeoff-and-landing concepts. In addition, those requirements should flow down to address the maintenance concepts and logistics needs of UAVs, as well as those of other unmanned systems, onboard various future ship types, including the LCS, DD(X), amphibious ships, and the ships of the Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future), which will form the core of the new Sea Basing concept.
1.7 Revisit and Strengthen the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Roadmap. The CNO and the Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC) should assign responsibility for the review and revision of the naval UAV Roadmap to establish a clear plan to address advanced technology needs and the timely introduction of new UAV capabilities and to resolve tactical UAV issues between the two Services.
1.8 Establish a Joint Services Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Forum. The CNO and the CMC should together recommend to the Commander, Joint Forces Command, that a joint-Services annual forum be established. The forum should encourage interaction between UAV developers and operators of all of the military Services, resolve interoperability issues, and identify new warfighting capabilities for UAVs that may be applicable in urban and littoral warfare environments. A key task should be pinpointing missions that might be executed more effectively and economically by UAVs and formulating system requirements to meet those needs. Where appropriate, and in situations in which needs cannot be met by other means, the forum should recommend what new UAV developments need to be initiated. The forum should also foster experimentation and should formulate and recommend operational and technical experiments involving UAV systems, including collaborations of UAVs with manned vehicles.
1.9 Foster Flight of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Controlled Airspace. In concert with the other military Services, the Secretary of the Navy should work to ensure that the Department of Defense is actively supporting initiatives that will lead to safe, unrestricted flight by UAVs in the U.S. National Airspace System, in international controlled airspace, and in combat theaters.
PURSUE NEW AUTONOMOUS VEHICLE CONCEPTS AND TECHNOLOGIES
The Office of Naval Research’s (ONR’s) Autonomous Operations Future Naval Capability2 (FNC) has initiated a four-pronged autonomy technology development effort. This effort, in concert with the Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) autonomy technology portfolio and ongoing DOD programs, provides a pipeline of maturing technologies that can be used to create, in the near term, new Navy and Marine Corps autonomous vehicle capabilities.
Despite the autonomy capabilities that can now be leveraged from the DOD’s portfolio or that are currently being developed via ONR’s Autonomous Operations FNC, much remains to be done if the Navy’s future vision is to be fully realized. The focus of future Naval Services’ investments and the pace of autonomy technology development needs to be carefully mapped, with cognizance of work being done across the DOD.
Recommendation 2: The Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition (ASN(RD&A)) and the Chief of Naval Research (CNR) should direct the Navy and Marine Corps Systems Commands, the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) to partner with the operational community and monitor the concepts and development of critical autonomous vehicle-related technologies considered essential to the accomplishment of future naval missions. The progress of these developments should be tracked year to year. Specifically:
2.1 Pursue New Autonomy Concepts and Technology Developments. The ASN(RD&A) should direct appropriate agencies in the Navy and Marine Corps to formulate and maintain a list of the most promising moderately to highly mature autonomy technologies (Technology Readiness Level > 4) that can enable critical near-term autonomous vehicle capabilities. Plans to pursue further development of these capabilities should be developed and funded, and progress should be tracked year to year to ensure the proper pace of development.
The ONR should develop autonomous vehicle research and development (R&D) needs and a technology roadmap to achieve the goals defined by the various vision documents of the Naval Services. ONR should leverage the current operational experience and the recommended increase in future operational
experience with autonomous vehicles in order to define R&D needs to address specific, high-value operational needs.
2.2 Pursue New Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Concepts and Technology Developments. The ASN(RD&A) should ensure that the respective Services monitor promising new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) concepts and developments, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)/Air Force/Navy Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS), the A-160 Hummingbird, Eagle Eye, X-50 Dragonfly canard rotor wing, unmanned combat armed rotorcraft, organic aerial vehicles, and micro-UAVs. Particular attention should be paid to the DARPA/Army/Special Operations Command A-160 long-endurance rotorcraft program and the Coast Guard’s Eagle Eye tilt-rotor development, since these systems offer promise as potential long-dwell intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and short-range tactical UAVs, respectively, as well as the DARPA/Air Force/Navy J-UCAS Advanced Technology Demonstration that is developing a stealthy, long-endurance, carrier-based, unmanned combat armed rotorcraft suitable for ISR, suppression of enemy air defense, and strike missions.
The ASN(RD&A) and the CNR should ensure that the Naval Air Systems Command, ONR, and MCWL, in coordination with the Army, Air Force, and DARPA, monitor the need for, progress, and development of technologies that would help realize more effective UAV systems to accomplish future naval missions. At a minimum, the following technologies should be considered in this context:
Dependable and secure communications, including bandwidth and latency;
Positive automatic target-recognition and image-processing software;
Automated contingency planning;
Systems-oriented flight operations;
Fuel-efficient, small-turbine, and heavy-fuel internal combustion engines; and
In addition, a number of advanced UAV concepts should be continually evaluated, including the following:
Operations in dirty environments;
Autonomous aerial refueling;
J-UCAS for Combat Air Patrol, Airborne Early Warning, and Close Air Support;
Very small UAVs;
Deployment of ground sensors from UAVs;
Aerial release and redocking of UAVs;
Advanced sensor combined with UAVs; and
Optionally piloted air vehicles.
2.3 Pursue New Unmanned Surface Vehicle/Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Concepts and Technology Developments. The Chief of Naval Operations should establish a high-level working group to refine the requirements and concepts of operations for unmanned surface vehicles and other autonomous vehicles as an integral part of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and other naval operations. Once the LCS design is completed, planning for logistical support, maintenance and handling space, and launch-and-recovery systems for autonomous vehicles should be incorporated.
The ASN(RD&A) and the CNR should direct the ONR to monitor commercial developments in unmanned surface vehicle (USV)/unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) technologies and to take maximum advantage of those developments for meeting the Navy’s needs. Specifically, the ASN(RD&A) and the CNR should direct the ONR to invest in and develop networks of small UUVs. These efforts should include the leveraging of research and experimentation within the oceanographic research and oil exploration communities.
The ASN(RD&A) and the CNR should direct the ONR to conduct research into adaptive and cooperative autonomy and communications. ONR should develop better energy sources, as well as launch-and-recovery systems and environmental sensors for UUVs and USVs. Increased investment is needed in basic research and development in the areas of acoustics and optics as well as in sensors for mine hunting, including synthetic aperture sonar. ONR and the Naval Air Systems Command should focus on the modularity of components (propulsion, energy, and sensors), common architectures, common mission planning, and common integration pathways for data. The ASN(RD&A) and the CNR should ensure that UUVs and USVs, whenever possible, meet the interoperability and communications requirements of the Department of the Navy’s FORCEnet operational concept.
2.4 Pursue New Concepts and Technology Developments for Unmanned Ground Vehicles. The ONR should pursue a broad spectrum of R&D on unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) themselves and on their components. The R&D should range from basic research in sensors and sensor processing to field tests of complete systems. The Navy should continue to partner with the Office of the
Secretary of Defense, DARPA, and the Army, as appropriate, utilizing the capabilities of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command for these activities.
INTEGRATE AUTONOMY IN NETWORK-CENTRIC OPERATIONS
To realize network-centric operations,3 it is necessary for the Navy to develop an adequately funded FORCEnet4 implementation plan and management structure to coordinate with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and other Services with respect to requirements and interoperability; to support the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Networks and Information Integration) in its Transformational Communications efforts; to conduct the necessary systems engineering, to assign requirements to Navy platforms, and to provide funding for satisfying these requirements.
The committee finds that to facilitate the exploitation of UAV data, it is necessary to develop a robust, joint, network-centric “task, process, exploit, disseminate/task, post, process, use” (TPED/TPPU) environment, employing standard data formats for ISR products to permit networked exploitation. Research needs to be focused on the development of automated tools for tracking, fusion, automatic target recognition, and sensor management.
The committee finds that the achievement of the Naval Services’ future vision requires the standardization of interfaces, protocols, and the development of common architectures for autonomous vehicle communications and control. Also, the current challenges in the exploitation of autonomous vehicle ISR information, coupled with the expected future explosion in the generation of ISR information by autonomous vehicles, require the development of a new approach to mitigate ISR analyst saturation.
The Department of the Navy needs to expand its initial interaction and involvement in the Space Based Radar program. To enhance its capabilities for Broad Area Maritime Surveillance, the Navy needs to negotiate a Memorandum of Agreement with the Air Force to integrate ocean surveillance modes into the space-based radar (SBR). In this context, the Navy could develop and exercise connectivity and systems to exploit SBR surveillance data and to plan and control SBR maritime surveillance missions, and it could work with unified combatant commanders to develop plans and procedures for obtaining access to SBR resources when required.
Recommendation 3: The Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition (ASN(RD&A)) should formulate and execute a comprehensive plan to eliminate or significantly mitigate deficiencies in command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems equipment and infrastructure, including communications bandwidth, that now limit the use of modern intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems for autonomous vehicles. Specifically:
3.1 Develop an Adequately Funded FORCEnet Implementation Plan. The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and the Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC) should coordinate an adequately funded FORCEnet implementation plan and management structure to interact with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and other Services on the requirements and interoperability necessary to support network-centric operations.
3.2 Facilitate Exploitation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Data. The CNO and the CMC should take measures to facilitate the exploitation of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) data by developing a robust, joint, network-centric “task, process, exploit, disseminate/task, post, process, use” (TPED/TPPU) environment, utilizing standard data formats for ISR products to permit distributed exploitation. Automatic target recognition-like techniques should be explored so as to more rapidly screen large volumes of electro-optical/infrared and synthetic aperture radar imagery generated by ISR UAV systems such as the Global Hawk. The Naval Network Warfare Command and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command should implement an organizational structure and a systems development approach that promotes a tighter vertical integration of command-and-control systems (e.g., C4ISR) with the autonomous vehicle control systems that they task.
3.3 Define Standards and Protocols for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Control. The ASN(RD&A) should continue to support ongoing Department of Defense efforts to define standards and protocols for unmanned aerial vehicle control, in coordination with the efforts of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force.
3.4 Expand Involvement in the Space Based Radar Program. The Department of the Navy should expand its initial interaction and involvement in the Space Based Radar program to determine if that program is in the best interest of the Navy in terms of satisfying the Navy’s ocean surveillance requirements. Communications connectivity and analysis systems necessary to exploit space-based radar (SBR) surveillance data and to plan and control SBR maritime surveillance missions should be given particular consideration. The CNO should direct liaison with both the Joint Staff (in particular, J6—Joint Staff experts on
command, control, communications, and computers) and the unified combatant commanders in order to develop plans and procedures for obtaining access to SBR resources if required.
INCORPORATE LEVEL OF AUTONOMY AS SYSTEM DESIGN TRADE-OFF
System designers of autonomous vehicles often neglect the potential operational benefits to be derived by employing level of mission autonomy as a design choice in up-front trade-off studies, instead electing to focus on trade-offs relating to vehicle performance characteristics (e.g., speed, range, endurance, stealth) and subsystem capability (e.g., sensing and communications). This approach constrains the level of autonomy that can be implemented later in the development and prevents designs that might provide greater operational benefit in terms of impacting mission effectiveness, vehicle survivability, and system affordability.
Recommendation 4: The Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition (ASN(RD&A)) should mandate that level of mission autonomy be included as a required up-front design trade-off in all unmanned vehicle system development contracts. Specifically:
4.1 Incorporate Level of Mission Autonomy as an Autonomous Vehicle Design Trade-off. The ASN(RD&A) should direct appropriate agencies in the Navy and Marine Corps to exploit level of mission autonomy as a degree of freedom for impacting concepts of operations, mission effectiveness, vehicle survivability, and system affordability by including a level of mission autonomy as a design choice in the early-stage system trade-off studies. The architecture of all new autonomous vehicles should be such that increasing levels of autonomy can be implemented in the field by modular replacement and/or software upgrade.