Page 1

UK Exercise May Mark ‘Tipping Point’ for Unmanned Systems

Photo: Ben Shread/Royal Navy

By Magnus Bennett

30

| UNMANNED SYSTEMS | FEBRUARY 2017


Photo: CNH Industrial.

REMUS 100 underwater unmanned survey vehicles are launched and recovered during Unmanned Warrior.

FEBRUARY 2017 | UNMANNED SYSTEMS

| 31


UNMANNED WARRIOR

B

ritain’s Royal Navy appears to have set sail toward a new era in unmanned technology, following a major demonstration off the coasts of Scotland and Wales. Unmanned Warrior 2016 saw about 40 companies and organizations demonstrate more than 50 unmanned aircraft, surface vehicles and underwater vehicles under a range of themes including anti-submarine warfare, ISTAR [intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance], command and control and mine countermeasures as part of the large-scale U.K. naval exercise Joint Warrior in October. The event was staged in response to a call from former navy chief Adm. Sir George Zambellas, who challenged technology firms, scientists, academics and British and allied military forces to identify

32

| UNMANNED SYSTEMS | FEBRUARY 2017

and provide technical solutions to capability gaps facing the U.K.’s navy. It was widely seen as an acknowledgement that the Royal Navy, which currently has only one unmanned aircraft in operation — the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle — has been slow to adopt new technology suitable for modern warfare. Highlights of the event included a demonstration of the new transportable Autonomy Control Exploitation and Realisation (ACER) command and control system, which was designed to integrate unmanned systems and platforms from multiple suppliers. With financial backing from the U.K.’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the system has been developed in a partnership between QinetiQ, Thales, BAE Systems and software specialist SeeByte.

The Royal Navy expressed enthusiasm for the system in its initial post-demonstration analysis. In an exclusive interview with Unmanned Systems, Fleet Robotics officer and Royal Navy lead for Unmanned Warrior, Cmdr. Peter Pipkin, describes ACER as “one of the huge successes” of the event. “Instead of each unmanned system coming with its own ground control station and its own software and potentially its own operators, this system allows them all to plug in to a common command and control system which then also for Unmanned Warrior was sitting on a proper representation of our ship’s combat management system,” he says. “What that means and why it is so important is many fold. The system is built on a principle of open architectures, which makes it easy

Photos: John Williams/Office of Naval Research

A rotary wing unmanned air vehicle from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific, successfully communicates with a Canadian unmanned undersea vehicle on the surface then relaying status and detection information to shore.


A rotary wing unmanned air vehicle from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific, lifts off as part of the first Unmanned Warrior, a research and training exercise designed to test and demonstrate the latest in autonomous naval technologies while simultaneously strengthening international interoperability.

and cheaper for providers to plug their system in, if you like. So that was important for us because that was the first time we have potentially fielded an open architecture combat system to that degree and that complexity,” he says. “Secondly, it allows us to get the information out of these systems into the heart of the ship so the commanders and warfare officers can use it usefully and make decisions.” ACER played a central role in a multinational demonstration of unmanned and autonomous systems during Unmanned Warrior. The QinetiQ-led demonstration, dubbed Hell Bay 4, saw unmanned underwater, surface and air vehicles working cooperatively within a number of squads, autonomously undertaking mine countermeasures missions. It brought together underwater vehicles operated by the Royal Navy’s autonomous systems trials team, an unmanned C-Worker 5 surface vehicle provided by ASV Global, the Blue Bear Blackstart unmanned aircraft and vehicles from Hydroid, Ocean Server Technology and SeaRobotics.

“Hell Bay was a good example in a sort of microcosm of everything Unmanned Warrior was trying to do,” Pipkin says. “They achieved their own world first in terms of autonomous collaborative demonstration with 10 systems, including air, surface and sub-surface systems, working together as a squad autonomously. “In about 10 clicks of a mouse on a computer via the ACER system, they were tasked, they talked to each other, they went off and achieved their tasks together with basically the barest of instructions,” he tells Unmanned Systems. “That was hugely successful, not least because it was a mix of industry, defense and academia.” Although no specific contracts were up for grabs at Unmanned Warrior, future demonstrations are in the pipeline for at least one company which took part. The Royal Navy has confirmed that there will be a second demonstration phase of a Leonardo-Finmeccanica rotary unmanned air system, equipped with airborne sensors similar to those employed on SW-4 “Solo” during Unmanned Warrior.

They included sensors such as the SAGE electronic warfare and Osprey E-Scan radar systems. The Royal Navy did not specify which Leonardo rotary UAS would be involved and no date has yet been given for the demonstration. “We are working with Leonardo to understand certainly post-Unmanned Warrior what we want to see in that demonstration in that second phase,” Pipkin says. There are potentially promising developments for other systems which took part in Unmanned Warrior as well, including the Boeing/Liquid Robotics wave and solar-powered Wave Glider platform SHARC (Sensor Hosting Autonomous Remote Craft). The demonstration saw a network of persistent USVs detect, report and track a live submarine in a naval demonstration for the first time. “I think we saw enough that suggests we need to take a slightly closer and perhaps more prolonged look at that,” Pipkin says. “That’s something that we are looking at at the moment.

FEBRUARY 2017 | UNMANNED SYSTEMS

| 33


A team launches a REMUS 100 underwater vehicle as part of Unmanned Warrior.

REMUS 100 underwater unmanned survey vehicles are launched and recovered during Unmanned Warrior.

34

| UNMANNED SYSTEMS | FEBRUARY 2017

“In the MCM [mine countermeasure]demonstrations, I think we saw a level of maturity that suggests we should be able to make the case for accelerating our current MCM and hydrographic capability MHC program that is already ongoing. “In the ISTAR theme, we saw a flexibility, I think, in taking different platforms and different sensors and being able to mix and match those. So there were a number of those things where I think we have seen enough of already to say that actually we need to understand this and do a bit more to take the next step and there are moves afoot within defense to try and do that. "Obviously, all I can do for my part is make the business case and bid for the funding to see how we move that forward,” Pipkin says. Pipkin also tells Unmanned Systems that the navy will approach the Unmanned Warrior participants as early as January or February to discuss their analysis of the demonstration outcomes. “We will articulate from what we saw in Unmanned Warrior where we think we are going next. I think that will be based around timescales — i.e., what do we think we will do in the short term? That could be, not limited to, further concept demonstrations but perhaps in more bespoke areas,” he says. “Part of that will perhaps in the medium- to long-term be a future road map of how we see technology coming into our future capability acquisitions.” QinetiQ, which provided logistics and range management expertise to the Royal Navy for Unmanned Warrior under a Ministry of Defence contract, described the event as “an outstanding success.” QinetiQ’s Autonomy Campaign Leader Bill Biggs tells Unmanned Systems, “we secured participation on

Photos: Ben Shread/Royal Navy

UNMANNED WARRIOR


an unprecedented scale, covering all of the major areas of naval operations and drawing in inputs from over 40 different organizations — with inputs from mature systems through to technology demonstrators. “It has definitely helped create a much clearer awareness of what unmanned systems can do, fueling new thinking on operational concepts and establishing real user pull,” he says. “The model of doing demonstrations alongside a major exercise also worked really well, as did our program of visits to the major sites in Scotland and also in Portsmouth. Finally, the level of integration, both operationally and between the systems [and the command and control] was a significant success story.” French electronic systems specialist Thales also rated Unmanned Warrior a success, having achieved two “firsts” in the development of its unmanned technology. “Thales’s Watchkeeper Unmanned Aircraft System flew for the first time in a littoral environment and was integrated into a series of exercises varying from persistent wide area surveillance support, to landing forces and naval gunfire support,” says a Thales spokeswoman.

“This demonstrates the potential of using Watchkeeper to enhance the Royal Navy’s ability to defend itself and conduct operations at sea and over land. Thales’s Halcyon unmanned surface vehicle also successfully proved its effective minehunting capabilities.” For all its successes, there were a few glitches during Unmanned Warrior’s two-week run. “Without talking specifics, we had a number of systems which didn’t quite work as perhaps expected, although some of those faults were rectified on the day and did end up working correctly,” Pipkin says. “We had a couple of unmanned air systems that ditched at sea for a number of different reasons. One of them was subsequently recovered. “The great story there of course is that nobody was hurt and there were back-up systems available and up in the air in relatively short order once we were confident there were no safety implications for why they had ditched,” he says. “One of the great principles that these systems offer is that they are not necessarily disposable by any means but the impact of losing them is definitely less severe.” Whatever results finally emerge from the demonstration, the indications are that industry and

academia are knocking at an open door when it comes to the Royal Navy. “I am personally convinced — and I think I reflect many of the thoughts in the Royal Navy — that these technologies are coming,” he says. “There has been a sea-change in potential attitude toward how we adopt some of this technology.” Pipkin says the Royal Navy has the opportunity to decide how quickly and extensively it wants to adopt unmanned systems, within the challenges faced by the rest of the defense organization. “We are in a time of fiscal constraint and you have to make the case for future technology alongside current technology and alongside other operations, so it is not going to be easy by any means,” he says. If the technology is going to expand in the U.K. defense arsenal, the services have to embrace it, and he says he thinks the “tipping point” to do that has been reached because it allows better efficiency from limited budgets. “One of the ways of doing that I think is by trying to better exploit commercial technology but without always making it bespoke, which is what we have done perhaps in the more recent past,” Pipkin says. 

Expert

Engineering Since 1983, Hitec has designed, developed and manufactured servo technologies that push the boundaries of imagination and innovation. Consider, for example, our HS-1005SGT, with its full metal case, specially-handmade cored motor, and steel gears. Its unrivaled reliability, strength and durability deliver expert performance for your most challenging and demanding industrial and commercial applications.

Expert

Performance

Discover Hitec. Hitec RCD USA, Inc. | 12115 Paine St. | Poway, CA 92064 [858] 748-6948 | www.hitecrcd.com

Custom design and manufacturing available. FEBRUARY 2017 | UNMANNED SYSTEMS

| 35

Profile for Brett Davis

Unmanned Systems February 2017  

The U.K. military demonstrates a variety of unmanned systems during Unmanned Warrior 2016.

Unmanned Systems February 2017  

The U.K. military demonstrates a variety of unmanned systems during Unmanned Warrior 2016.

Advertisement