Home » Sea » AirSea Battle » Navy Tests Unmanned Surface Weapon

Navy Tests Unmanned Surface Weapon

by Matt Cox on October 30, 2012

The U.S. Navy recently launched several missiles for the first time from an unmanned surface vessel as part of an effort to combat small enemy boat attacks in the future.

The Chief of Naval Operation’s Expeditionary Warfare Division and the Naval Sea Systems Command’s Naval Special Warfare Program Office successfully launched six Rafael Spike missiles from an unmanned surface vessel precision engagement module (USV PEM) on Oct. 24th, according to a Navy press release.

The U.S. military has been able to launch missiles from unmanned airborne vehicles for several years, but this is the first time it’s been done from the USV PEM, a remotely operated, 33-foot boat armed with missiles and a .50 caliber machine gun.

“The USV PEM project was developed in response to recent world events which have increased the concern over swarms of small attack craft, as well as threat assessments outlined in recent studies conducted by the Naval Warfare Development Command,” said NAVSEA Naval Special Warfare Assistant Program Manager Mark Moses, in the release. “The study punctuates the effectiveness of these swarm attacks against both military re-supply ships and naval vessels. Technology demonstrated in this project can provide a capability to combat terrorists who use small low-cost vehicles as weapons platforms.”

The demonstration is part of a joint project between the U.S. and Israel accomplished under an international agreement with the Combating Terrorist Tactics Support Office. The integration of the PEM into the USV was done with cooperation from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport, Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane and Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren.

The PEM, which aims, fires, and updates the missile in the flight, is operated by shore-based personnel. These personnel, sitting in a remote control center, use onboard sensors to control the boat and obtain and destroy targets. During the demonstration, they engaged stationary and moving targets out to 3.5 kilometers. The Spike missile uses electro-optic and infrared sensors to identify and lock onto the target.

“The fiber optic tether is ultra thin and is spooled up and uncoils automatically during flight,” said Moses “This allows the operator to view updated targeting information to the missile while it is in flight and to confirm the missile is tracking the intended target up to the moment of impact.”

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{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

blight_ October 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Surprised we aren't using next gen TOW or something. Spikes are better, I guess.

That said, I wonder if going with a F & F Javelin might be better.

Additionally, these might provide the high speed intercept of small boats that the fleet could use, supplementing available helicopters.



Dave October 31, 2012 at 10:49 am

TOW doesn't work over water. Screws up the guide wire.


blight_ October 31, 2012 at 11:13 am

Jesus, that's horrible.

I guess it's good we aren't firing TOWs over rivers at OPFOR? Or are you just pulling my leg?


Guest October 31, 2012 at 3:17 pm

The Mark 48 and Mark 48 ADCAP torpedoes have the option to be wire-guided. What's the problem with water?


Drew November 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm

I don't get it? How isn't this a TOW missile (not be be confused with TOW (TM), of course). You do know that TOW is an acronym: Tracked Optically Wire guided. To quote the artical;

"Spike missile uses electro-optic and infrared sensors…" These are optics (for tracking)

“The fiber optic tether is ultra thin and is spooled up and uncoils automatically during flight,” said Moses: This means there is a wire (for guidance)



blight_ November 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Our missile is named after its acronym. The Israeli missile uses a guide wire made out of a fiberoptic line, but I don't recall what the TOW missile uses. Perhaps a legacy technology like copper wire or somesuch?


Johnny Ranger November 1, 2012 at 10:22 pm

TOWs use metal wire.

Michael October 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Brought to you by BLAMMO!

Anybody find it interesting that the picture is from the FARS news agency?


Lance October 30, 2012 at 7:29 pm

A ship drone controller…. A job in the navy for men who get sea sick LOL.


Drew November 1, 2012 at 2:36 pm

.. So those prone to sea sickness have a third option to being corps men or chaplin's assitance attached to the Marine Corps


Johnny Ranger November 1, 2012 at 10:24 pm

How would that help their seasickness? Medication and prayer? Actually, that might work…


stephen russell October 30, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Id add Minigun for sure aside the 50 cal MG.
Maybe 20mm cannon mount.
& then missiles in pre set modules
Awesome idea.
Or shoot mini torpedoes at swarm boats.


Johnny Ranger November 1, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Seems like a lot of weight for a 33' boat…


Taylor October 30, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Since the swarm boats probably will get off the first shots and they are very close to the big ships based upon past harrassment from them, where are these robot boats going to be. Looks like we need more machine guns and missile defense methods on the big ships for close-in surprise attacks.


Eric October 31, 2012 at 1:10 am

More and more technology operated by people sitting in an office chair somewhere far away from where things are getting blown up.


BlackOwl18E October 31, 2012 at 1:22 am

Quote from COD Black Ops II: "As technology got stronger we got weaker."


Dan Gao October 31, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Oh boo hoo. Like it’s somehow okay to kill each other as long as we see the whites of their eyes?

Completely antiquated mentality.


ddd October 31, 2012 at 2:33 am

Can someone please describe how they tow the lines behind these missiles? How are the lines not fried by the exhaust?


blight_ October 31, 2012 at 7:23 am

Additionally, controlled-by-wire missiles tend to be slower than their F & F counterparts, so it's possible that lower velocity means lower exhaust temperatures as well.

This may be less true with modern ATGMs…

It'd be awesome to put a Mach 5 Starstreak into a USV and throw that sucker into a Boghammar, but…


Rob October 31, 2012 at 2:36 am

This was aimed at iran no doubt.


mehrdad October 31, 2012 at 4:20 am

the photo is from Iranian news agency "Fras" !


Curt October 31, 2012 at 9:00 am

Its the threat, not the test.


blight_ October 31, 2012 at 7:25 am

Matryoshka style.

The Littoral Combat Ship will deploy its own unmanned Littoral Combat Ships. Perhaps that will be its sole mission: to deploy and tend Unmanned Littoral Combat Ships.


Curt October 31, 2012 at 9:03 am

Makes sense,
Of all the modules, the ASUW module doesn't use the full launch bays or for that matter the full compliment of people. It would be a perfect addition.


blight_ October 31, 2012 at 8:04 am

Anyways, where is this photog from? The credit line says FARS…which is Iranian?

Edit: Alleged image


Curt October 31, 2012 at 9:04 am

Not a picture of the test, its a picture of a Iranian exercise (i.e. the threat discussed)


blight_ October 31, 2012 at 11:13 am

Fair enough.

I suppose when you can't find a good picture of the item in question…


Jim October 31, 2012 at 9:21 am

As with our aerial drones, Not being a communications specialist, but one weakness I see is the link between operator and drone. If a signal can be generated, it can be duplicated. One only has to use a powerful transmitter to drown out the signal, or over perhaps over-ride with a stronger signal to render the drone useless. Hope I am wrong.


joe October 31, 2012 at 10:10 am

Depends on what level of genuinely autonomous capability the drone has – which of course we don't know.

There are, for example, some UAVs which are genuinely autonomous – leave them to fly a pre-programmed waypoint route and let them get on with it.


NathanS November 1, 2012 at 1:17 am

Hi Jim, From what I know of military encryption is that the encryption key changes very frequently. A command sent one second would no longer be valid even perhaps a second later. It also makes it notoriously difficult to hack, as not only are the keys very long, but the frequency of change and the algorithm used to get the next key are very closely guarded secrets.

Secondly, I would imagine that the existing fleet would be used to relay and boost the signal. If used as a perimeter defence around the fleet, it would be difficult to overpower – and that's provided you had the means to do so; in a conflict the enemies transmitters are one of the first things targetted.


Citizen of the world November 1, 2012 at 5:13 pm

If you can’t hack the signal, you hack the drone or the remote controller. Where are the chips in that controller made? China? Or worse, Siemens?

But it’s not a problem unique to remotely-controlled machines. Where were the chips in the F-35 made?


Derek October 31, 2012 at 12:47 pm

The new TOWs are RF-guided and unaffected by water. These boats are Israeli boats carring Israeli weapon systems. The boat is called the Protector. http://www.rafael.co.il/Marketing/359-1037-en/Marhttp://www.rafael.co.il/marketing/SIP_STORAGE/FIL
Nothing here that US Raytheon hasn’t produced, or can’t build.


blight_ October 31, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Eh? I thought wireless TOW was canned post Cold War.

Edit: nevermind, info out of date

That said, it's probable that most TOWs in the force will still be conventional until retrofit of the entire inventory is complete. Wonder when that'll be.


FormerDirtDart October 31, 2012 at 2:31 pm

If I recall correctly, TOW-RF program was re-instituted due to the high cost of rare earth metals used in the traditional guidance wire.


blight_ October 31, 2012 at 2:45 pm

I thought it was the fact that the PRC was sitting on the largest current known reserves…?

Though price matters too.

Makes you wonder if we'll be in the same boat Germany was in WW2: trying to build tanks without tungsten and vanadium to make AT penetrators or alloy with steel.


roverolls October 31, 2012 at 1:09 pm

the article said fiber optic guide fiber not radio frequency controlled.


derek October 31, 2012 at 3:09 pm

The TOW wire was replaced because the manufacturer went out of business, no more inventory. Spike uses fiber optic guidance, and only uses Fire and Forget close to the target when it's weak sensor can lock on and the cable is severed by the gunner; Not as good as Javelin Fire and Forget. The US Army/Raytheon EFOGM fiber optic controlled missile was cancelled years ago, it needs to be resurrected. Javelin is proposed to go on a Stryker RWS mount; it could go on this boat in lieu of Spike.


blight_ October 31, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Perhaps the option is to replace TOW's wire with a fiberoptic one?


dave October 31, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Anybody remember NLOS, part of Future Combat Systems? A ship cannister, multiple launch non-line of site missile program that was cancelled? This was to be on the LCS…got whacked.


vok October 31, 2012 at 1:49 pm

JAGM is a good replacement for NLOS-LS missile. Actually with its advanced tri mode seeker, it’s better suited than NLOS-LS for anti surface warfare role against swarming boat attack.


FormerDirtDart October 31, 2012 at 2:44 pm

NLOS-LS got canned because it's autonomous imaging infrared targeting would not work. The GPS and semi-active laser homing targeting worked. But, the Army already has adequate systems in place for laser targeting, and saw Excalibur and development of Precision Guided Mortar Munition, and the artillery Precision Guidance Kit as more cost effective. The navy chose not to go it alone trying to make the autonomous imaging infrared targeting work.


derek October 31, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Raytheon's Griffin is slated to temporarily replace NLOS. NLOS failed because the customer wanted additional SW enhancements installed and untested before the LUT tests where it only failed the enhanced area, a recipe for disaster. Nothing else can surface launch, travel 40 km and kill its target, on the surface or in the air for under $150K a shot/kill.


tasphol changpun November 1, 2012 at 5:36 am



SGT WILL November 1, 2012 at 6:52 am

Looks like we are coming one step closer to Robotic Army where no soldiers will be needed. Wow what will we do then?


Curt November 1, 2012 at 10:06 am

Its a picture of an Iranian small boat attack exercise. When they said "…part of an effort to combat small enemy boat attacks in the future." they should have added the phrase "like the one pictured above".


Citizen of the world November 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Why use an unmanned boat to attack swarms of patrol boats, when you can use an unmanned plane?


blight_ November 1, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Because we like options.


Curt November 2, 2012 at 8:13 am

And a USV offers longer endurance, greater payload, can operate in a wider range of weather condictions, and costs a fraction as much. So UAVs and USVs are a good mix, just as manned aircraft and manned ships are a good mix.


blight_ November 2, 2012 at 10:47 am

The UAV will have greater ISR range, though be vulnerable to engagement from farther out. Weapons fired from high platforms tend to have greater range than their ground-launched counteparts.

It's a mix of pros and cons…


Rob November 1, 2012 at 8:17 pm

I alway wondered if US Navy was ever going buy into getting Protector Class USVs, they could load them up on a Amphib as command ship and launch them protect mourned ships or patrol along side them in the Gulf. In my younger years, ships i served on kept getting bit too close to Iranian coast line, and suddenly have to change course while they were doing a unrep. Having the USVs running along aside task force wouldn't be such bad thing.


blight_ November 2, 2012 at 10:55 am

Developing a multi-national force to ensure free access to the Persian Gulf would not be a bad idea. Dot the coastline on "our" side of the Gulf with ground stations and ports for USVs and UAVs, and use them to ensure that the Persian Gulf is harassment free.

Though the better option would be a mix of manned and unmanned craft for the Gulf, but the real question is multi-national co-operation and an coordinated Arab force to protect the Gulf, rather than relying on the USN or individual national efforts.


Rob November 5, 2012 at 8:01 pm

I agree with you on that. Mixed manning & Drones is better than having Drpnes alone in the situation. Someone far away from the situation seeing thing through limited sensors of a drone and other survey means could lead to errors that would cost lives.

Having Multi-National force was good too, during my time with US Navy in the gulf, we did multi-national. Problem was and is today, there not as many Navies out there that can deploy overseas as easy they used to. Political and logicist reasons, thats why US Navy ends up going there alone.


taxingcharlotte November 1, 2012 at 10:06 pm

All I know is bullets are far cheaper. Frankly, when I see stories specifically against small boat/swarm boat threats, I think back to the Cole. When that association comes to mind I always think that, "even a free electron laser won't do you any good if you are suicidally handcuffed to bad ROE and lack of local tactical decision making authority." I love the advances. I applaud advances that make the result of a tactical or strategic decisions more accurate, efficient, and decisive. That said, sometimes I can't help but ponder how many of our people get hurt, despite all the great tech out there, for the simple want of clear tactical authority and decision making.

To paraphrase an old proverb, the war was not lost for the want of a nail, but the want of a clear decision from 7000 miles away…


blight_ November 2, 2012 at 10:52 am

Indeed. Armies have lost due to command paralysis: either the general on the field is afraid to act without authority from Vienna or Paris, or in our case we are waiting for a command decision to bounce over through satellite.

Of course, the issue with the Cole was that the RoE was irrational and we didn't have an SOP for refueling at open civilian ports. If the Cole had and could deploy a boom (similar to what was used in WW1 and WW2 for anti-torpedo and anti-frogman) with RHIBs a suicide raft would likely not have hit the Cole.

And of course, a boom would have given the detonating boat enough standoff to cause trivial damage…and any unknown craft attempting to defeat a boom should be fired upon.

But that's all water under the bridge…makes you wonder if it'll happen again.


J. Bateman November 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm

To the person who asked about noticing WHO took the photo. Not trying to be a wise guy here, but. If you have any Classified, Military questions you'd like answered. Just visit the OBAMA.COM site, or WIKILEAKS.
There's more TOP SECRET stuff there, and it's free for the taking, as long as you support Hamas, the Taliban, or the DNC.


guest November 4, 2012 at 1:27 am

Saudi Arabia: Jewish Bloodline, Jewish State


diätrezepte March 8, 2013 at 12:34 pm
bob October 31, 2012 at 12:28 am

For the first time, I agree with you black owl :).

Best statement I've heard on this whole forum.


Curt October 31, 2012 at 8:58 am

Maybe because it was a test?
I am not sure of what platform they used, but if it was the Rafael USV the Navy has been evaluating for several years, it is an Israeli developoed USV, with an Israeli developed weapon system, that is already integrated with an Israeli missile.
So if you are testing a concept (remember, this is not a program of record), you use what is available and already integrated on the platform.


Pat October 31, 2012 at 11:01 am

The LSC uses a Swedish Bofors 57mm gun that we probably build under license as we did for ther 400mm light AA guns in WW2. If we tried to design a gun who knows how expensive it might be. Remember the York AA vehicle (DIVAD) with twin 40mm guns. It was expensive and didn't work, even against stationary targets.


Brian Black November 2, 2012 at 6:23 am

The LCS gun is made in Louisville, Kentucky.

Now, my geography ain't so good but…


IronV November 18, 2012 at 12:59 am

Oerlikon. Bofors.


blight_ October 31, 2012 at 11:15 am

Alternatively one could use these for harbor defense.

Regarding push button warfare and air to air, when was the last time aircraft knocked each other down by flying at each other and firing a brace of pistols at each other? (Answer: WW1)

It would be awesome if air to air warfare involved people jumping onto your aircraft and engaging in fisticuffs…


Ronald October 31, 2012 at 11:16 am

Not totally inaccurate. It was designed to aim at spinning helicopter blades. Due to a slight target discrimination error it once shot the ceiling fans out of a General's on post housing.


Curt November 2, 2012 at 8:28 am

The twin 40mm gun on the DIVAD was also a Swedish design. .


blight_ October 31, 2012 at 11:18 am

We don't need USWs for small boats, we have our LCS /snark


Curt November 1, 2012 at 10:01 am

Other alternatives are Riverine warfare (have a UAS in front to draw fire, detonate mines, spring ambushes, etc), offshore infrastructure protection (oil platforms, fiber optic lines, pipelines, etc) or for close protection of Unmanned Surface Sweep Systems, EOD divers, or other MIW forces in mined waters.


blight_ November 1, 2012 at 11:46 am

Or littoral combat.



blight_ November 2, 2012 at 10:48 am

My guess is copper wire, which would not have been out of place back in the days of the Easter Offensive: and why fix what's not broken yet?


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