The US Navy’s uncrewed approach begins to mature
By William Davies, associate aerospace and defence analyst at GlobalData
The US Navy is developing its plan for uncrewed vehicles and is focusing on prioritising commonalities across drones and uncrewed vessels. As the service increases its investment in uncrewed vehicles it will increasingly face problems of network capabilities and will spend less on specific platform centred capabilities. Instead, the navy is likely to spend more on payloads which can be installed on multiple platforms, as well as investing in a unified control system.
Focusing on commonalities will drive investment in drones in the coming years. The navy is developing a new campaign plan and attempting to fill gaps in its kill chain. This plan includes significant investment in uncrewed technology, calling for $12bn in funding between 2021 and 2025.
Significantly, the US Navy’s plan is focused on tying disparate development plans into a comprehensive strategy, as well as developing a network to control them with. In 2020, Congress pushed back on naval plans to move forward on developing large uncrewed vehicles, in part because it believed the navy’s strategy on their development was not clear enough. The new plan will go some way to remedying this.
The Department of Defense is pushing for a shift away from large surface combatants, and decisions made by former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper have prioritised uncrewed vehicles, but the navy requires a more comprehensive investment plan before Congress provides its full support.
This plan will likely increase investment in data capabilities, and research into how future uncrewed vehicles will be integrated into a naval internet of things will be critical to the development of future programmes. Both surface and underwater vessels will be affected by these developments and developing common standards for autonomous vehicles will enable more innovation.
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// Image: The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator during test operations onboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman. Credit: US Navy