Unmanned Systems: Enhancing our Warfighting Capabilities Today and in the Future

By Rear Adm. Robert Girrier
Director, Unmanned Warfare Systems (OPNAV N99)

This is an exciting time for me to be serving as the Navy’s Director, Unmanned Warfare Systems (N99) partnered with Secretary Frank Kelley as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (DASN) for Unmanned Systems. We were able to speak a couple of weeks ago at an event for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, and I want to share with you some thoughts and information about our newly formed directorate we discussed at the event.

ARABIAN GULF (Nov. 4, 2014) Scan Eagle program members launch an unmanned aerial vehicle from the flight deck of the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christopher Carson/Released)

ARABIAN GULF (Nov. 4, 2014) Scan Eagle program members launch an unmanned aerial vehicle from the flight deck of the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christopher Carson/Released)

We are living in a world that is connected more than ever with the surge of technology and rapid information sharing. We are also living in an increasingly dangerous world with contested regions on the sea, in the air, under the sea and in cyberspace. My job, drawing on fleet experience, is to see how unmanned systems and technology can help solve problems we face in contested regions around the world. How can unmanned systems help leverage the capabilities of our ships, submarines and aircraft?

While many of you are broadly aware of unmanned capabilities today, some of you have actually worked with these vehicles first hand. Fire Scout and Scan Eagle have been used for several years supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Currently, Fire Scout is employed in conjunction with a manned helicopter aboard USS Fort Worth (LCS 3). This past May, USS North Dakota (SSN 784) deployed and recovered unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) while operating in the Mediterranean Sea.

CHANGI NAVAL BASE, Singapore (May 29, 2015) An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system, left, and an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter are displayed on the flight deck of the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) while the ship was moored pierside in Singapore. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. James Arterberry/Released

CHANGI NAVAL BASE, Singapore (May 29, 2015) An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system, left, and an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter are displayed on the flight deck of the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) while the ship was moored pierside in Singapore. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. James Arterberry/Released

 

As the resource sponsor for unmanned warfare systems, I’m charged to serve as champion for Pre-Milestone B systems, or systems that have not begun the official start of a program in the acquisitions process. In simpler terms, N99 will be focused on the prototype and demonstration of unmanned systems in a rapid development cycle. We will work with Naval Warfare Development Centers and the fleets to find out where the capability gaps exist and where unmanned systems might fill those gaps and requirements. Next, with the DASN for unmanned systems, we will survey technologies across the research and development enterprise to find the right match of technology to fill those capability gaps identified. Our team will then prioritize these matches for prototyping and demonstration.

This process informs our Rapid Development Plan that executes within a two-year period. Within those two years, we’ll also look to terminate those demonstration efforts that are not working out for the fleet in order to reinvest money into more promising initiatives. Through this approach, resources are optimized and technical risk is reduced, saving time and money. I also want to point out that unmanned systems directly support our Sailors, making their jobs easier, more efficient and ultimately, a more effective combat team. As Secretary Mabus has said, the N99 stand-up isn’t just about producing improvements to platforms and weapons, it’s about implementing a cultural change. As unmanned systems continue to come online and mature, we’re changing how we think and how we operate, so we’re not just reacting to the challenges we face today, but focusing creativity and initiative to ensure we prevail in the future.

I’m excited to move out with Secretary Kelley with this important portfolio, and remain committed to developing and integrating unmanned systems into our broader warfare areas. I look forward to hearing the input from the fleet and seeing you out there — on the job.

 


 


PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (April 22, 2015) The X-47B successfully conducted the first ever Autonomous Aerial Refueling (AAR) of an unmanned aircraft April 22, completing the final test objective under the Navy’s Unmanned Combat Air System demonstration program. (U.S. Navy video/Released)

 

 

 

 

 

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