US Navy to develop drone strategy

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The U.S. Navy’s top officer has ordered his staff to develop a comprehensive strategy to field unmanned systems in the air, on the water and under the sea over the coming years.

Dubbed “unmanned campaign plan,” it looks to tie together all the disparate programs into a coherent way forward, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday told Defense News.

“We’ve got … a family of unmanned systems we’re working on,” Gilday said. “Undersea we’ve got extra-large, large and medium [unmanned underwater vehicles]; on the surface we have small, medium and large [unmanned surface vessels]; and in the air we have a number of programs.

“What I’ve asked the N9 to do is come to me with a campaign plan that ties all those together with objectives at the end. I’ve got a bunch of horses in the race, but at some point I have to put my money down on the thoroughbred that’s going to take me across the finish line so I can make an investment in a platform I have high confidence in and that I can scale.”

Gilday’s drive toward an unmanned campaign plan comes after two consecutive years of congressional criticism that the Navy is forging ahead too quickly on unmanned systems without first having designed or developed critical new technologies and mechanical systems. The criticisms have resulted in marks in legislation that deliberately slows down the development of the systems that both the Navy and the Office of Secretary of Defensehave said are necessary to offset a rising China without breaking the bank.

In the interview, Gilday acknowledged the Navy hadn’t adequately mapped out its unmanned future in a way that would inspire confidence.

“What I’ve found is that we didn’t necessarily have the rigor that’s required across a number of programs that would bring those together in a way that’s driven toward objectives with milestones,” Gilday said. “If you took a look at [all the programs], where are there similarities and where are there differences? Where am I making progress in meeting conditions and meeting milestones that we can leverage in other experiments? At what point do I reach a decision point where I drop a program and double down on a program that I can accelerate?”

In the most recent National Defense Authorization Act, currently working its way through Congress, lawmakers appear poised to restrict funding for procurement of any large unmanned surface vessels, or LUSV, until the Navy can certify it has worked out an appropriate hull as well as mechanical and electrical system, and that the design can autonomously operate for 30 consecutive days.

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