The focus of interest, investment, publicity and anxiety in the world of unmanned systems has been on aerial platforms. The military case for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) is uncontestable. The civil/commercial case will become clear as the FAA finally moves to resolve lingering issues.
An equally good case can be made for the future of Unmanned Undersea Systems (UUSs). Perhaps it is even better since the privacy issues are obviously not nearly as serious as with UASs. Here is an area where commercial development has led with the creation of remotely-operated vehicles for both scientific and construction activities. Offshore oil exploration has been enabled by the use of UUSs. With the locus of activity in this area shifting dramatically towards deep water drilling, UUSs are becoming even more important. Larger, deeper diving, longer-endurance and more capable UUSs are coming.
The Navy has been relatively slow to exploit the opportunities presented by commercial UUS developments. This may be about to change. As the Navy faces a steep stop in the size of the Fleet, it will need to invest more in force multipliers. With the recent decision to pursue the UCLASS to augment the manned portion of the aircraft carrier air wing and the acquisition of the Triton maritime surveillance platform, the Navy has made a commitment to UASs. UUSs are the next big step.
The Navy will find many uses for autonomous vehicles. These systems are already part of the Navy’s mine countermeasures capability. UUSs could augment the nuclear submarine force in its ISR role. In an anti-submarine warfare role, they could provide a part of the solution to the diesel-electric submarine threat in littoral waters. Armed UUSs could play a decisive role in bottling up hostile navies, particularly in enclosed seas.
There is likely to be equally great opportunities for UUSs and also Unmanned Surface Systems (USSs) in support of homeland security. Drug smugglers are building fleets of manned submersibles. The Coast Guard could make terrific use of these systems in counter narcotics but also in environmental monitoring, fisheries management and even search and rescue.
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