Navy Commander William H. Johnson wrote in these pages in April 2003 that “UAVs Need Doctrine & Tactics.” He noted: “The most radical part of unmanned aerial vehicles is not the technology . . . but the application and integration of the platforms into traditional Navy operations.” Sixteen years later, the U.S. military has made strides in developing unmanned technology and applying it to the battlefield. Every service has used unmanned systems—in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, the Caribbean, and across Southeast Asia. But despite many technological and tactical strides, the maritime domain remains largely neglected. While unmanned aerial systems (UASs) such as the MQ-8B Fire Scout have deployed and operated on board ships, commanders and tacticians have yet to define adequately the role of these machines and their operators. The Navy must incorporate them into routine operations to realize their potential. This will require development of effective commander’s guidance and tactical doctrine for combined manned and unmanned employment, as well as an outline of acceptable levels of risk.
1. Julian Turner, “America’s MQ-4C Triton Drones and the Battle for the South China Sea,” Army Technology, 11 July 2018.
2. Michael Gordon and Jeremy Page, “China Installed Military Jamming Equipment on Spratly Islands, U.S. Says,” Wall Street Journal, 9 April 2018.
3. Courtney Kube, “Russia Has Figured Out How to Jam U.S. Drones in Syria, Officials Say,” nbcnews.com, 10 April 2018.