The Navy needs more robot submarines for missions now

October 27, 2016 - via Navy Times

The Navy needs more underwater drones — and it needs them now. 


The new head of the Pentagon's submarine warfare office said Thursday that the slow development of drones that can operate autonomously can't be an excuse for inaction on unmanned underwater vehicles that officials hope will multiply the presence and power of the world's most fearsome undersea force.   


"We are making progress but I'm tired of waiting," said Rear Adm. William Merz to an audience of submarine officers and military contractors. "Give me what you have, I will take it to sea and I'll give you feedback. You can develop and evolve, then I'll take that to sea: give you more feedback." 


The development of undersea systems has leaped forward over the years but fundamental problems with autonomous drones have proven a tough nut to crack. Developers have struggled with figuring out an efficient way to gather information collected by UUV sensors. Some of the problems are as basic as keeping these subchasers from being snagged by commercial fishing nets.  


But as submarines proliferate worldwide, from potential adversaries like Russia and China to renegade regimes like North Korea and Iran, the Navy's fleet of attack submarines has been increasingly stretched. In February, Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, then the head of U.S. European Command, said the influx of Russian subs in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean was forcing him to "play zone defense," having his attack boats patrolling large areas rather than tracking individual submarines.  


Unmanned systems will have to pick up some missions currently being filled by attack boats, Merz said at the annual Naval League Symposium outside Washington, D.C. 


"I have a spectrum of missions from the dull, dirty and dangerous all the way up to the Starship Enterprise — I have the Enterprise, it's called the Virginia-class submarine," Merz continued. "I hope unmanned systems get there eventually but until then, give me what you have and I can plug holes that can unburden the [attack submarine fleet]." 


The clamor for UUVs peaked last fall when The New York Times reported that Russia had unmanned submersibles lurking around U.S. undersea cables that carry the bulk of the world's internet data.  



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Author:David B. Larter

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