Drones that dive, drive and fly are learning to work together off the west Coast of Scotland this month in a first-of-its kind exercise called Unmanned Warrior. An expansion of an annual exercise hosted by the British Navy called Joint Warrior, this effort, focused on international unmanned technologies, is indicative of the strong interest in moving toward a near future in which autonomous machines play a significant role in warfighting.
Some 40 participants from NATO and allied nations are exploring 10 different technologies and exploring challenges around five “mission themes:”
-Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance
-Command & Control
In a conference call with reporters Oct. 14, Dr. Marcus Tepaske, the Office of Naval Research Global science adviser to U.S. Fleet Forces Command and U.S. technical director for Unmanned Warrior, said one key gain has been finding ways for British and American unmanned underwater vehicles to network and communicate as they accomplish various exercise objectives.
“We’ve achieved a number of world firsts in UUV operations to do mine countermeasures in a joint and multinational environment,” he said. “We’ve pushed limits … networking American systems and British systems.”
Beyond that, military researchers have been able to watch how various kinds of unmanned systems can communicate with each other and back to the human command center. In one test, officials said, surface vehicles served as a communications medium between UUVs and unmanned aerial vehicles, and the UAVs served as a communications relay back to shore at the same time.
The exercise, which began Oct. 8, continues until Oct. 20. Capt. Beth Creighton, the Navy officer in charge of the exercise and a reserve officer with the Office of Naval Research, said ONR was still compiling its list of lessons learned and plans for future research.
We’ve got world-class innovators working together, pushing the limits of these systems in what is not necessarily the sunny coast of California or Mississippi,” she said. “It’s an interesting operating environment and … it’s absolutely a phenomenal world first event.”