By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Correspondent for In Homeland Security
Two days ago, there was news of a first successful launch of an underwater drone from a submarine dry deck. In Groton, Conn., the attack submarine USS North Dakota returned from a two-month deployment overseas that tested the REMUS 600 in the Mediterranean Sea.
REMUS (Remote, Environment, Monitoring, Unit, System). The U.S. Navy has utilized drones for over 40 years, but several REMUS underwater drones were only introduced during the 1990s. In 2012, the MK 18 Mod 2 Kingfish was used in the Middle East for passive missions.
REMUS 600 is a 14 foot long, 500 pound commercially available underwater drone made by Hydroid. It is powered by a lithium ion battery and can operate 20 hours with a depth of 600 meters.
The REMUS 6000, the Flimmer (Flying Swimmer), and Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV) exist now and are well underway in testing. The Navy’s defense budget request for UUVs or autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) is increasing with focus and necessity.
The purpose of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV) is seen by the U.S. Navy as a cost-effective way to expand force presence and maintain a sea power dominance in the future.
Two major mission functions for American UUVs existing right now, include: ISR missions and anti-Submarine warfare. Others include mine detection, environmental sensing or seafloor mapping.
The Chief of Naval Operations, Submarine Warfare Division website states: “The first UUVs that will be fielded on SSNs will support Mine Warfare. The Long-term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS) will greatly improve submarines’ mine hunting capabilities in the near future. Ultimately, a mission reconfigurable UUV will also come into service providing more capabilities and reducing risk to future SSNs. UUVs are key elements in maintaining submarines’ future undersea dominance against any threat.”
One of the immediate threats to a highly visible but superior surface fleet has been vulnerability to asymmetric attacks from players operating on the cheap. UUVs are one of many platforms coming on-line which will discourage and deny small-scale and stealth attacks in shallow waters, ports and channels or even in deep waters.
In the future, a highly autonomous and highly numerous fleet of UUVs will likely have specialized tasks and be rapidly deployable or long-endurance based. There will likely be armed mini-sub drones down to the micro-drones and underwater sensor nets.
As with other technologies, the U.S. has a short window to produce the better drone; whether in the sea, sky, land, or outer space. Automated systems of modern warfare will press the limits of the human operators, submarines and gradually replace them as an extension of the commander’s will.
Future systems will demand programmable machine learning intelligence command relays and central command centers capable of operating on their required speeds. Eventually more sophisticated AI battle centric networks will be required for mixing human and artificial systems.
While still far superior, states are catching up along with the open market. One worries about the numbers of drones versus the superiority in design and capability.
Might China or Russia, for example, some day have a UUV fleet of a hundred to one the U.S.?
While this could change, sociologically, as in the past, non-Western cultures continue to favor superiority in force numbers of inferior abilities; and while they express interest and investment in improving innovation, they presently lack leadership, culture and industry that produces long-term, sustainable, practices leading to technological breakthroughs. They have thus far had to buy, steal and bribe American and other Western captains of innovation.
The U.S. must therefore continue to lunge forward and press 10 to 20 years above potential rivals in cutting edge technology; utilizing the western military tradition of technology and innovation superiority versus just predilection for numbers. It is not enough to have drones of many kind or lots of them: the U.S. needs the best.