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Who needs sailors anyway?

And DARPA is behind the curve on the development of Autonomous Vehicles as well.  The civilian world is driving that train.

DARPA has routinely gone to the civilian world to find out how to manage "robots".


Here are some civilian views on unmanned, robot ships - for containers.


And while I have your attention -  [:D

On the Shipbuilding Strategy thread you mentioned that all general purpose ships need all systems.  I question that.  If you are sailing in Task Groups, and you already have a division of labour between the AAWs and the GPs/ASWs (not to mention Cruisers, Carriers and Subs) why not plan on having ships sail in company with smaller ships, distributed systems and smaller crews.

Consider, for example, a Huitfeldt AAW sailing in company with an Absalon C&S together with a screen of 20,000,000 USD SeaHunters with on-board missiles and torpedoes.  The Absolon could be the home of a boarding team and a black-gang to maintain and operate the SeaHunters.  (And before you say it, I know missiles and torpedoes don't come cheap).

The point is that while sailors will always be necessary, the number of sailors that the RCN has available now, in my opinion, can be made more "productive", (able to do more things in more places) with better use of technology.  The other thing I believe such decentralization would result in would be more targets with fewer sailors on board that would be cheaper to operate.  That would diminish the pressure to "save the ship" at all costs.  And save lives.
PS -


Self-driving freight trucks have been given the go ahead to drive on Nevada's roads.

Chris Pook said:
On the Shipbuilding Strategy thread you mentioned that all general purpose ships need all systems.  I question that. 

Well, I am right. If they don't have all the various systems (not the highest  end system for any category, but the level that affords them self-protection in all categories of fighting, with slight emphasis on one or two categories) then they are not general-purpose ships, are they?

Chris Pook said:
Consider, for example, a Huitfeldt AAW sailing in company with an Absalon C&S together with a screen of 20,000,000 USD SeaHunters with on-board missiles and torpedoes.  The Absolon could be the home of a boarding team and a black-gang to maintain and operate the SeaHunters.  (And before you say it, I know missiles and torpedoes don't come cheap).

Disregarding your pathological fixation on the Iver Huitfled/Absalon  ;D , and dealing with the underlying argument only, it is true as a general rule that distributed systems are more resilient than concentrated ones (Or, as Scotty once put it: "The more complicated the plumbing, the easier it is to plug the drain"). However, here are a few points to keep in mind:

First (and foremost?), in your example, your SeaHunters will not cost you only $ 20M each (and I am not counting the cost of missiles and torpedoes) but much, much more. Why: simply put, the one DARPA just built for that price is a dinky toy and incapable of carrying anything. The small hull you see is entirely dedicated to housing the electric motor and all the electric batteries needed for the motor. It has little to no sensor systems on board - one civilian low power navigation radar, possibly a depth sounder, one  navigation GPS, one GPS "compass" system, one personal computer or its equivalent and probably one small electric helm motor and auto helm - and therefore, requires very little of the electrical power for the operation of he vessel. A military vessel would have much larger power requirements for all the sensors, computerized systems and combat systems associated with the weapons carried on board. Moreover, the very weapons you wish to put onboard would, in and of themselves, mean that you would need a much larger vessel so that there is space onboard for them. That means, again, more power, thus more batteries, thus more volume again, and so on. In a modern submarine, almost 50% of the interior volume of the sub is dedicated to the motors and batteries, and you would be hard pressed even at loitering speed to go for much more than 96 hours between snorkelling to recharge.

Just consider that many things have been predicated on improvement of batteries in our modern world, but that improvements in battery capacity, even with huge investment, as been the factor that has been the slowest to increase and there is no foreseeable breakthrough in sight.

Second: I think your scenario is off on the human factor: Your ships in the group would not only need their current engineers (and I mean both the marine systems and the weapons system ones) - so no reduction in numbers - but also have to carry the extra ones making the "boarding team/black gang for the SeaHunters (and no, you cannot use the "regular" engineering complement of the ship for that purpose: we already work them anywhere between 14 to 18 hours a day, six and half days a week when at sea - they are not taking another task on while steaming). And you would have to move those people about the various SeaHunters at sea, in say the mid-Atlantic in winter during a storm, etc. How do you do that safely? It would certainly require some form of inter-ship transport, either boats (need seamen) or helicopter (need airmen) that would require some permanent presence onboard the various SeaHunters.

Finally, your concept seems to consider that the "group" works together, which is fine. However, at that point, it means that the SeaHunters are no longer totally autonomous, sensing threats and dealing with it on their own, but rather need to "report" their findings to someone, and then wait to be delegated a task to carry out. That is one more level of complexity in their operating system.

When all this is taken into consideration, I am not sure there is any savings to be gotten.

Oldgateboatdriver said:
Oh! And Dolphin_Hunter: There may not be too many people left about from my days, but we used to do detection and classification of sonar contacts before the days of computers.  ;)  It wasn't as detailed and sophisticated as currently possible, but a good sonar man could tell you if you were going against a single screw, or double screw, nuclear or classic, and generally tell you the rough size of your contact - and some times a damn good guesstimate of range. It may be a lost art, but it used to be done.

We can still do that.  I can tell you if I have a single screw 7 bladed submerged contact, or a dual screw 5 bladed contact, etc. But I can't tell you with 100% certainty what the contact is.  We need passive information to classify.

I can also give you a range estimate based on aural contact, but I would require multiple sonobuoys in the water. 
Oldgateboatdriver said:
Well, I am right. .....
When all this is taken into consideration, I am not sure there is any savings to be gotten.

Well, I am.  [:D

Oldgateboatdriver said:
Disregarding your pathological fixation on the Iver Huitfled/Absalon  ;D , 

How did you pronounce FREMM again?  With an Italian accent?

Chris Pook said:
PS -



Ah yes, Nevada, where it is hot and dry and the white lines painted on the roads are easily picked up by the trucks sensors. Now let toss in rain, snow, fog, wind, drifting snow etc etc. Would you want one of those meeting you on the tight TCH corners that are in the Selkirks?

Didn't think so!
FSTO said:
Ah yes, Nevada, where it is hot and dry and the white lines painted on the roads are easily picked up by the trucks sensors. Now let toss in rain, snow, fog, wind, drifting snow etc etc. Would you want one of those meeting you on the tight TCH corners that are in the Selkirks?

Didn't think so!

One does what one can, as one can.
FSTO said:
Ah yes, Nevada, where it is hot and dry and the white lines painted on the roads are easily picked up by the trucks sensors. Now let toss in rain, snow, fog, wind, drifting snow etc etc. Would you want one of those meeting you on the tight TCH corners that are in the Selkirks?

Didn't think so!

Yep. Have the Eye Sight collision avoidance / drive assistance system on my Subaru Outback. For the most part it works quite well. But I've seen it disengage in heavy rain, thick fog and once in heavy oncoming traffic due to headlight glare. I'd rather have seen a radar based system like the blind spot detection system in the back, as it would be less prone to being blinded like the front view camera. But you would still need a camera for lane detection.
related, optical based avoidance systems in drones https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qah8oIzCwk
also related, laser communications between vehicles http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2013/January/Pages/Game-ChangingLaserCommunicationsReadyForFielding,VendorsSay.aspx

Effective radio silence with lasers as Aldis Lamps.  You already have the receivers - Laser Warning Receivers. You already have the transmitters - Laser Range Finders (as well as weaponized Lasers).  The only "people" that "see" the communication are the transmitter and receiver - with very high data transmission rates.

ITT Exelis is working exclusively in the terrestrial realm. It is offering laser communication nodes that can be put on military platforms on land, sea and air. The company doesn’t see any utility in fixed sites, Tarantino said. It spent seven years developing with its own funds the “pointing acquisition and tracking” system that allows laser links between two moving vehicles.

“They have to be mobile systems. We don’t have a static military out there. They are moving. They are mobile,” Tarantino said.

Along with significantly higher throughput, he touted the technology’s security. The military has a renewed emphasis on anti-access/area-denial scenarios where the military may fight against peer competitors who are adept at jamming and electronic warfare. There may be situations where radios are knocked out. Laser might be the only secure way to communicate, he said.

The company has achieved air-to-air connections at 3 gigabytes per second at a distance of 130 kilometers. Air to ground reaches about 65 kilometers, and ground to ground about 35 kilometers. Because there has to be a line of sight, there must be connecting nodes, similar to radio repeaters, to expand the system over greater distances and over the horizon.
You bring us flashing light.  Just ramped up to the Nth degree.
Underway said:
You bring us flashing light.  Just ramped up to the Nth degree.

Yup.  From the same article

Laser communications do not use any of the radio spectrum. And, advocates point out, it is inherently protected. To disrupt a transmission, an enemy would have to be able to detect the narrow beam and find a way to put an object in front of it. To actually intercept data, he would have to place a receiver in its path.

In its simplest form, the energy is transmitted in pulses with the “1” digit being a pulse and the “0” a gap. But modulating the timing can create more sophisticated pulses. 

Perry described it as: “Morse code but at ridiculously high rates.”

How high? Two gigabytes per second and upwards of 20 gigabytes per second are possible, he said.
Oldgateboatdriver said:
Well, I am right. If they don't have all the various systems (not the highest  end system for any category, but the level that affords them self-protection in all categories of fighting, with slight emphasis on one or two categories) then they are not general-purpose ships, are they?

If all these things do is carry a chaff launch and an off-board jammer, I'll take them anywhere.

I really see this as a stepping stone. As you said, the battery technology is not sophisticated enough to have these things run on batter alone; they are going to need a power generation system. They also can't be completely autonomous yet. But we have to start somewhere! Eventually we will be able to build ships the size of corvettes with a full suite of armaments and sensors with an AI suite that will enable them to basically patrol by themselves; but, maybe by the time we have THAT technology, we won't even have navies anymore...

Anyways, while we are where we at, I'd be more than happy to use them as cannon fodder.
Blame George Wallace for reviving this thread.  Him and his Uber trucks!  ;D


Crewless Ships in the Navy: Not If, But When
By Sandra I. Erwin

A team of senior Navy officials is examining the future makeup of the U.S. fleet at a time of growing demands and squeezed budgets. One of the expected takeaways is the idea that the Navy can’t continue to do business as usual and will have to turn over some jobs to unmanned vessels and submarines.

How to insert autonomous systems into the fleet is indeed one of the subjects of debate, says naval analyst Bryan Clark, of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Clark and other outside experts have participated in a series of “fleet architecture studies” led by the office of the chief of naval operations. Their findings will shape decisions on how to size and organize the future fleet.

Industry insiders see this review as a potential turning point in the modernization of the Navy's fleet. “We have these things now,” says a retired Navy officer speaking about autonomous surface ships and underwater vehicles. Prototypes have been developed and tested, but crewless ships are still considered odd novelties, says the retired officer, who spoke on condition that he not be quoted by name. “These are disruptive technologies” that do not fit neatly into current Defense Department funding lines, he says. “We worship at the altar of the big program of record. It’s not easy to buy one thing at a time and expect it to realize its full potential. We need an architecture that says 'here’s the future mix of manned and unmanned, and let’s migrate to that.'”

Technologists and executives in the robotics industry, he says, are optimistic that the fleet studies will "open the door for autonomous systems to become mainstream.”

The issue of whether the military should develop its own autonomous systems or buy them from the private sector has been a contentious topic of debate. The retired officer describes it as a “religious argument" within the services: Do you want small underwater vehicles to scrum in and out of submarines? If you do, you have to spend a lot of money to make them safe so they do not put submarines at risk. If the mission can be met with vehicles that can be launched from a pier and operate independently, the focus would be less on safety and more on the actual mission. His take: “You probably need a mix of both.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has offered a glimpse into what might be possible. In April it deployed a 132-foot autonomous trimaran — known as anti-submarine warfare continuous trail unmanned vessel — off the coast of San Diego. “The ball is in the Navy’s court,” the retired officer says. After the experiments are finished, the next conversation has to be "What missions can it do?"

Executives from the contractor firm that built the ship for DARPA, Leidos, told industry analysts that they are confident that the performance of this prototype will motivate the Navy to buy more ships. The drone ship, dubbed Sea Hunter, can stay deployed for months at a time at a cost of $15,000 to $20,000 per day, compared to $700,000 for a Navy destroyer, estimates defense analyst Byron Callan, of Capital Alpha Partners.

Leidos announced in July it completed initial trials of the vessel. “Sea Hunter is designed to operate for extended periods at sea with no person on board and only sparse supervisory control,” the company stated. While initial tests require a pilot on board the ship, later tests are planned to have no human operators. The two-year program is funded by DARPA and the Office of Naval Research. Upcoming tests will dig deeper into the performance of sensors, the vessel's autonomy suite and compliance with maritime collision regulations.

Top defense contractor Boeing is making a huge bet on autonomous naval vehicles. It opened an 8,100 square-foot research facility in St. Charles, Missouri, to showcase innovations. The company struck a partnership with a Silicon Valley firm to develop a commercial maritime surveillance autonomous ship that it is marketing to U.S. and other nations’ navies and coast guards.

The SHARC, or sensor hosting autonomous remote craft, collects data and shares it in real time. It has been sold to oil and gas companies and other industries for ocean exploration. Thirteen vehicles are now swimming off the coast of Hawaii, streaming data to command centers ashore. “The vision is to have large numbers of low-cost autonomous systems conducting missions that traditionally have required manned fleets,” says Egan Greenstein, senior director of autonomous maritime systems at Boeing Military Aircraft.

The target customers are the U.S. Navy and forces from allies countries that face increased demands for maritime security, he says in an interview. The SHARC will participate in a naval exercise in the United Kingdom this fall. “We want to show can we integrate data and broadcast it to decision makers,” Greenstein says.

The day is not far off when navies will start turning over duties to ocean-going robots, he says. “It’s really about embracing the path. Technologies will emerge to solve maritime problems.” Boeing signed a research agreement with the Naval Research Laboratory for the development of payloads for autonomous vehicles. “We want to see what’s possible,” says Greenstein. “The services recognize that the path into the future is going to have autonomous systems.”

Like other technologies that promise to transform how the military does business, autonomy is not a panacea. “We are on a journey,” Greenstein says. There are significant questions out there about the capability and "self-awareness" of autonomous ships. Today, they can self deploy from point to point, swim, compensate for weather, currents, waves and winds. If a cargo ship gets in the way, they go into self-protection mode, moving out of the way and then resuming their mission. Small vehicles like the SHARC can be deployed in large numbers, he adds. “They work as a fleet to maintain positioning, they communicate their position to each other.”

Technology is advancing quickly, and the levels of autonomy will increase, Greenstein says. Naval drones soon enough will be smart enough to use tactical information to make decisions about where they swim, for instance. “Today it is more about self protection. How do I get out of the way so I’m not run over? Eventually they will understand where the ships are and react to the tactical situation.” Autonomy has progressed from vehicles that just do what they are told and have enough brainpower to stay out of danger, to where they are able to take on more complex missions such as surveillance of enemy waters. “In the future, instead of telling them where to go, we give them a task, and tell them go do it, and call home when you find something.”

Conceivably, the military could deploy autonomous surface ships, submarines and aircraft and have them work together as a surveillance network. “If you can raise the level of autonomy to command all assets and say, ‘search an area and report back if you find something,’ that is the vision of where all this goes: Large numbers of autonomous systems relieving people from having to monitor in real time, continuously.” In theory, Greenstein explains, one could turn over the task of detection and reporting to the autonomous system and only bring the decision maker when there is a need to act on a piece of information.

The burgeoning debate over the use of autonomous ships illustrates the blessings and curse of technology. The Navy, increasingly overextended and under pressure to do more with less, sees robots as a potential “force multiplier.” In the larger U.S. civilian economy, robots can be double-edged swords that increase productivity but also leave millions of people out of work. In a recent Washington Post editorial, David Ignatius warns that the “automation bomb” could destroy 45 percent of the work activities currently performed in the United States. Currently, only 5 percent of occupations can be entirely automated, but 60 percent of occupations could soon see machines doing 30 percent or more of the work.
Skynet approves of this message.  :nod:

Brits playing with doom.....



Navy tests unmanned 'Bladerunner' robotic speedboat to revolutionise maritime warfare

AN UNMANNED robotic speedboat dubbed 'Bladerunner' is being trialled by the Royal Navy in secret tests that could revolutionise maritime warfare.

PUBLISHED: 15:00, Mon, Sep 5, 2016 | UPDATED: 15:15, Mon, Sep 5, 2016

The Bladerunner vessel is autonomous

The high-speed vessel, which will take to the River Thames in London today for tests, is designed to carry out surveillance operations and does not carry weapons.

But the sleek matt black Bladerunner boats, which can reach speeds of more than 70mph, are already in use by foreign navies including Iran.

The Royal Navy hopes the new technology will allow it to leapfrog rival militaries, including China and Russia which are investing heavily in autonomous design.

The boat will allow the Ministry of Defence to test and tweak tactics for employing autonomous maritime technology, which until now has only been a major feature of the UK's air force with its drone fleet.

Technicians say the Bladerunner vessel is capable of operating at different levels of autonomy, from basic remote control use requiring human involvement to completely autonomous navigation.

The work is funded through the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, who conduct research on behalf of the Royal Navy.

Fleet Robotics Officer Commander Peter Pipkin said: "This is a chance to take a great leap forward in Maritime Systems - not to take people out of the loop but to enhance everything they do, to extend our reach, our look, our timescales, our efficiency using intelligent and manageable robotics at sea."

The Bladerunner will be taking part in the Unmanned Warrior 2016 exercises in October in Scotland and Wales involving UK and NATO forces.

Admiral Sir Philip Jones, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, said: "The growing scale of Unmanned Warrior is a clear demonstration of the Royal Navy's ambition to lead and win through technological innovation.

"Unmanned maritime systems will change how we operate, but they're just the start.

"Our pursuit of new technologies and ideas - from big data to 3D-printing - will ensure we remain one of the most capable and successful navies in the world."

The US Navy launched its very first self-piloting ship designed to hunt enemy submarines in April.

The 132-foot-long (40-metre-long) unarmed prototype, dubbed the Sea Hunter, is designed to cruise on the ocean's surface for two or three months at a time - without a crew or anyone controlling it remotely.
Some Chinese perspectives on the USN's Sea Hunter "Drone"

Now, not only no sailors but, no fuel.




Drone sailboat transforms into spy sub

By Allison Barrie
Published April 21, 2017

Part sailboat - part submarine, a new remarkable drone can patrol the oceans for months without stopping, powered by only the wind and the sun.

Developed by Ocean Aero, the Submaran S10 is autonomous, able to conduct missions on its own. This drone can sail on the surface of the ocean and then transform to dive beneath the surface travelling, similar to a submarine.

The hybrid drone can dive to depths of about 660 feet, which makes it useful not only for avoiding detection, but to discreetly conduct its own surveillance as well.


It's about the size of a Laser sailboat, at 13.5 feet long. It weighs nearly 280 pounds and with the wingsail up, the Submaran is an impressive 8 feet high.

Similar to an everyday sailboat, the self-sailing Submaran has a sail, but the sail has been designed to be retractable for underwater use.

Like some racing boats, the Submaran has a bulb keel, which allows for stability and counterforce for self-righting.

The Submaran incorporates solar panels on the outside for both its rechargeable batteries and thruster power; there is also an auxiliary thruster for additional power.

The design also incorporates stability ballast tanks. Included in the Submaran are a communications antenna, anemometer, LED navigation, light and a 360-degree camera.


A couple of thoughts - the bulb as sensor bay

The prospect of this technology being scaled up for cargo transport - surface running most of the time under sail, dowsing sails and ducking below the waves during storms or in high traffic areas.




Much like the Wave Glider sea going robot, this little drone is much more appropriate as part of a "swarm navy" or third offset strategy plan than as a major layer in its own right. Indeed, there is plenty of synergy in the idea of releasing swarms of drones like these to form sensor lines and provide accurate target data to ships, aircraft or even shore based assets. (conceptually this is really nothing different from lines of microphones in a "sound and flash" ranging system or undersea sensor systems fixed along oceanic choke points).

Still, much like the ongoing disagreement over what is the "right" size for land based vehicles, I will have to give it over to larger warships to actually prosecute missions, especially "blue water" missions. Small ships are great for short missions, coastal patrols and similar missions (even carrying seagoing drones!), but since a ship needs to be self contained for long periods of time, there is going to be a cutoff where the ship becomes two small to actually carry out its mission.
DSEI: Navy Poised to Order Second Vessel for ACTUV Sea Hunter Test Program

LONDON — The U.S. Navy is preparing to take full control of the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program and procure a second craft.

A third might also be built as the Office of Naval Research (ONR) starts to evaluate additional roles for the autonomous wave-piercing trimaran design, an industry executive disclosed at the DSEI exhibition in London.

The prototype submarine tracking vessel was ordered in 2012 by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), launched in January 2016 and christened Sea Hunter two months later.

In a presentation at DSEI on Thursday, Timothy Barton, the maritime chief engineer at prime contractor Leidos, said the innovative 132ft platform is now being transitioned from DARPA to the ONR for a two-year trial program. “We’re about to build a second hull and maybe a third”, he added.

Although negotiations between Leidos and the ONR are not yet finalized, Barton said the second craft will be constructed at an as yet unidentified facility in Mississippi at a cost of around $25 million.The ONR is planning to assess the vessel’s suitability for roles other than submarine hunting, such as logistics support, hydrographic survey and surveillance. Sea Hunter has already demonstrated the Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS), employing a parakite to elevate various sensors, increasing their range and enhancing the vessel’s situational awareness.

“The navy are still interested in ASW but their real interest is in the ‘autonomous truck’ capability, where we can integrate bathymetric survey or surveillance”, Barton told USNI News after his presentation.

“It will give multiple people in the fleet and intelligence community the opportunity to integrate packages, get prototypes in the hands of the fleet earlier.

It’s essentially the navy taking over, to do more testing and integrate other mission packages, and do the kind of work that will allow the navy to build trust slowly over time, because that’s the hard part.”