The Department of the Navy has ambitious plans for integrating unmanned systems (UxS) into the fleet and Fleet Marine Force. These plans are described in the tri-service maritime strategy, Advantage at Sea, and, most recently, in the Navy’s Unmanned Campaign Framework.1 However, this aspiration has collided with congressional—and other—concerns that the Navy and Marine Corps have yet to come up with a convincing concept of operations (ConOps) for using the small, medium, and large unmanned vehicles it intends to buy. Unless or until the Department of the Navy can articulate how it intends to use these vehicles across the spectrum of conflict, the Framework will remain nothing more than an aspirational vision.
1. Department of the Navy, Unmanned Campaign Framework (Washington, DC: Department of the Navy, 16 March 2021).
2. For a concise recap of the Navy’s efforts to field unmanned systems, see Kyle Mizokami, “The Surprising History of Unmanned Navy Systems,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 46, no. 6 (June 2020).
3. ADM Jonathan Greenert, USN, Sailing Directions, 23 September 2011.
4. ADM Jonathan Greenert, USN, “Navy 2025: Forward Warfighters,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 137, no. 12 (December 2011), and ADM Jonathan Greenert, USN, “Payloads Over Platforms: Charting a New Course,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 138, no 7 (July 2012).
5. See, for example, “Document, Summary of the Navy’s New Force Structure Assessment,” USNI News, 16 December 2016 (updated 6 April 2017), news.usni.org/2016/12/16/document-summary-navys-new-force-structure-assessment, for an executive summary of this document.
6. See, for example, Navy Project Team, Report to Congress: Alternative Future Fleet Platform Architecture Study, 27 October 2016; MITRE, Navy Future Fleet Platform Architecture Study, 1 July 2016; and CSBA, Restoring American Seapower: A New Fleet Architecture for the United States Navy, 23 January 2017.
7. Department of the Navy, Unmanned Campaign Framework. See also, Department of the Navy, Science and Technology Strategy for Intelligent Autonomous Systems (Washington, DC: Department of the Navy, 2 July 2021).
8. Ronald O’Rourke, Navy Large Unmanned Surface and Undersea Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress, CRS Report 45757 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 9 December 2021). While the primary focus of the report is larger USVs, it also provides a comprehensive overview of the Navy’s plans for medium-sized USVs.
9. Lauren Williams, “Lawmakers Skeptical of Seaborne Drone Fleet,” Defense Systems, 24 June 2020.
10. David Larter, “The Pentagon Wants to Forge Ahead with Robot Warships, But Congress Wants to Slow the Train,” Defense News, 19 June 19, 2020.
11. Gregory Cox, “The U.S. Navy’s Plans for Unmanned and Autonomous Systems Leave Too Much Unexplained,” War on the Rocks, 10 December 2021.
12. Jack Rowley, “Integrating Unmanned Surface Vehicles Into the Surface Fleet: The Case for a ‘Nesting Dolls’ Approach,” paper presented at the American Society of Naval Engineers 2021 Virtual Technology, Systems and Ships Symposium, 26-28 January 2021.