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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

U.S. Navy: Bring Out the Swarmbots!

Here's a report that makes you want to shout "Faster please!"

As you read it, think about arming these things with stuff like (a) mini-torpedoes (b) mini-mines (c) missiles (d) chaff launchers (e) mini-guns (f) anti-wing in ground aircraft weapons and other stuff. More on this below.

U.S. Navy report on its new "swarmbot technology" "Navy's Autonomous Swarmboats Can Overwhelm Adversaries":
A technological breakthrough will allow any unmanned surface vehicle (USV) to not only protect Navy ships, but also, for the first time, autonomously "swarm" offensively on hostile vessels, officals at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) announced Oct. 5.

The first-of-its-kind technology, successfully demonstrated over two weeks in August on the James River in Virginia, allows unmanned Navy vessels to overwhelm an adversary. Its sensors and software enable swarming capability, giving naval warfighters a decisive edge.

"This networking unmanned platforms demonstration was a cost-effective way to integrate many small, cheap and autonomous capabilities that can significantly improve our warfighting advantage," said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations.

The technology, called CARACaS (Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing), is under development by ONR and can be put into a transportable kit and installed on almost any boat. It allows boats to operate autonomously, without a Sailor physically needing to be at the controls including operating in sync with other unmanned vessels, choosing their own routes, swarming to interdict enemy vessels and escorting/protecting naval assets.

"Our Sailors and Marines can't fight tomorrow's battles using yesterday's technology," said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder. "This kind of breakthrough is the result of the Navy's long-term support for innovative research in science and technology."

In the demonstrations, as many as 13 Navy boats operated using either autonomous or remote control. First they escorted a high-value Navy ship, and when a simulated enemy vessel was detected, the boats sped into action, swarming around the threat.

In the future, the capability could scale to include even greater numbers of USVs and even to other platforms, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

"This multiplies combat power by allowing CARACaS-enabled boats to do some of the dangerous work," said Dr. Robert Brizzolara, program manager at ONR. "It will remove our Sailors and Marines from many dangerous situations -- for instance, when they need to approach hostile or suspicious vessels. If an adversary were to fire on the USVs, no humans would be at risk."

The new technology will allow the USVs to detect, deter or destroy attacking adversaries. Any weapons fire from the USVs would need to be initiated by a Sailor supervising the mission.

Naval leadership has emphasized a blended force of manned and unmanned systems in recent years. Not only can USVs take on dangerous missions, thus protecting the warfighter, but even multiple USVs are a fraction of the cost of a single large manned ship.

Want to fight anti-access swarms by bad guys? How about sending 10 of these things out with something like floating mini-mines (minelets?) capable of of being fired off in a short-lived (a couple of hours? 30 minutes?) mine field patterns that builds an explosive barrier around a high value unit that an opposing swarm would have to deal with? Advantage? No targeting required, just lay out a field and then back it up with other swarmbots armed with other weapons, along with those great big gray hulls.

Dealing with small submarines? What about mini-torpedoes with both internal sensors and links to other systems (like sonobouys) that can be launched by remote control or by air. Make them capable of "waiting" until a confirmed detection.

Speaking of sensors - another use of these things could be to send sensors capable of reporting back to the launch vessel about areas too challenging for big ships (up rivers or in the littorals guarded by anti-ship cruise missiles.

Unleash the Sun Trackers!
Nice thing is that the Navy apparently could outfit itself with capable craft by simply going to Craigslist and buying up old bass boats and other motorboats. Think of using a pontoon boat as an "aircraft carrier" for drones (armed or intelligence collecting).

Need a new class of ship, though, "Swarmbot carriers." Perhaps using barges towed by other ships that can submerge enough to float the swarm into action positions?

Game changing.

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