January 17, 2017
Unmanned undersea systems could play a significant role in complementing more expensive assets and extend the capabilities of manned systems, according to a new Defense Science Board task force report.
The study, co-chaired by Ralph Semmel, director of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and James Shields, former president of Draper Laboratory, suggests that unmanned systems could undertake many missions not currently being addressed due to lack of assets. To implement such a strategy, the U.S. must design and develop inexpensive unmanned systems that can be acquired in numbers sufficient to create an asymmetric advantage over its adversaries.
The report, Next-Generation Unmanned Undersea Systems, examines the nation’s use of these systems to maintain and potentially enhance the undersea advantage that it currently enjoys, and examined how such systems could disrupt adversary strategies in the undersea domain.
The task force studied how current and near-future unmanned undersea systems could be creatively used, delivered in a cascaded manner, and evolved to handle a variety of missions and challenges, including important operations that may be on hold due to manned system constraints.
“Unmanned undersea systems have the potential to fundamentally change how military operations are conducted,” Semmel said. “Properly designed and developed, relatively inexpensive technologies can significantly expand and extend the capabilities of our manned systems.”
APL Force Projection Sector Head Lisa Blodgett, who served on the DSB task force with Semmel, added that “APL is well positioned to build on the concepts presented in the report to create capabilities that will extend the advantage our nation currently has in the undersea domain.”
The report recommends four specific concepts for system employment, along with development and experimental programs to validate the concepts. The report also finds that commercial developments offer opportunities to leverage existing technologies and create targeted, mission-focused, low-cost unmanned systems.
The Defense Science Board, established in 1956 to provide independent advice to the secretary of defense, includes leading authorities in the fields of science, technology, manufacturing, the acquisition process, and other matters of special interest to the Department of Defense. The DSB delivers technical findings and analyses that can be used to guide the nation’s armed forces as they operate in a changing global security landscape. Semmel has been a member of the DSB since 2013.
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The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.