The U.S. Navy has been at the forefront of innovation throughout its history.
Whether it was the transition from sail to steam, or the advent of steel warships to replace wooden ones, or the change from the battleship to the aircraft carrier to the centerpiece of the Navy fleet, these changes helped the U.S. Navy dominate at sea.
In the Cold War era, this innovative journey gathered momentum: from the introduction of the first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus, in 1954, to the first of the Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier in 1975, to the first Aegis-class warship, USS Ticonderoga, in 1983, innovative technology changes have kept the Navy at the forefront.
Today, the Navy stands at the precipice of yet another monumental technology advancement.
Tomorrow’s U.S. Navy
The U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael Gilday, has proposed that tomorrow’s
U.S. Navy grow to 500 ships, to include 350 crewed vessels and 150 unmanned maritime
While the composition of the future Navy’s crewed vessels is relatively well understood—based on ships being built and being planned—what those unmanned maritime vehicles will look like, let alone what they will do, has yet to be fully determined.
It is important that the Navy do so, as an often skeptical Congress—as it does with any emerging technology—will want the Navy to articulate a concept-of-operations (CONOPS) for how it intends to use unmanned maritime vehicles in future conflicts.
To this end, the Navy has recently taken several actions to define and accelerate its journey to have unmanned platforms populate the fleet.
Unmanned Campaign Framework
These include publishing an UNMANNED Campaign Framework, standing up an Unmanned Task Force, establishing Surface Development Squadron One in San Diego and Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One in Port Hueneme, and conducting a large number of exercises, experiments and demonstrations, including the recently completed Integrated Battle Problem 2023.
All of these initiatives will serve the Navy well in evolving a convincing CONOPS to describe how these innovative platforms can be leveraged. Fleshing out how this is to be done will require that the Navy describe how these platforms will get to the operating area where they are needed (for example, the Western Pacific), as well as what missions they will perform once they arrive there.
Unmanned surface vehicles
The answer to the first question is that Navy has committed to obtaining a number of large
unmanned surface vehicles (LUSVs). These vessels will be between 200 and 300 feet in length and displace 1,000 and 2,000 tons, which would make them the size of a corvette (a ship larger than a patrol craft and smaller than a frigate).
According to an April 2023 Congressional Research Service report, the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget request includes approximately $200 million for research and development for these craft and a planned procurement schedule of nine LUSVs from Fiscal Year 2025 to 2028.
These LUSVs can then be used as “trucks” to move medium unmanned surface vessels and
smaller unmanned vehicles to an area of operations. There, they can perform a number of
important Navy missions such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, mine-
countermeasures, and combat logistics.
These are missions that have been the focus of the aforementioned exercises, experiments and demonstrations, many of them conducted in San Diego, over the past several years.
Naval Engineers Journal
Column space doesn’t allow for a full description of how these missions would be conducted.
For a detailed description of this, I’ll steer readers to our March 2022 Naval Engineers Journal Article, “Engineering Unmanned Surface Vehicles into an Integrated Unmanned Solution.”
In a recent Foreign Affairs article, former Google-CEO, Eric Schmidt, said this: “In the contest of the century—the U.S. rivalry with China—the deciding factor will be innovation power. Technological advances in the next five to 10 years will determine which country gains the upper hand in this world-shaping competition.”
The U.S. Navy’s commitment to a future of unmanned maritime systems is an important arrow in the quiver of U.S military innovation and is likely to keep the Navy in the forefront of world navies for years to come and enhance its ability to provide for the security and prosperity of America.
Coronado has a rich history of thriving alongside the U.S. Navy. For more on naval and military matters, please visit my website: https://www.georgegaldorisi.com/.
Captain George Galdorisi (USN – retired) is a Coronado resident. He is career naval aviator
whose 30 years of active duty service included four command tours and five years as a carrier strike group chief of staff. He is the author of 15 books, including four New York Times best-sellers. The views presented are those of the author, and do not reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.