The Navy and Marine Corps released the unclassified version of a new framework strategy to develop capabilities that can work across various unmanned platforms.

The new plan, called the “Unmanned Campaign Framework,” argues the Navy Department needs to use unmanned systems to maintain the U.S. military’s competitive advantage and “move toward a capability-centric proactive environment able to incorporate unmanned systems at the speed of technology, to provide maximum agility to the future force.”

A Ghost Fleet Overlord test vessel takes part in a capstone demonstration during the conclusion of Phase I of the program in September. The Navy did not disclose which of two teams is using this vessel. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
A Ghost Fleet Overlord unmanned surface test vessel takes part in a capstone demonstration during the conclusion of Phase I of the program in September 2019. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Therefore, the plan “articulates the strategy, provides a framework for execution, and accelerates critical enablers in technology, process, policy, and partnerships.”

This means developing and unifying capabilities that can work on numerous unmanned platforms across the air, sea surface and undersea domains.

The plan aims to work with partner projects to integrate all naval systems including Project Overmatch, Naval Tactical Grid and Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) along with unmanned systems across air, sea, and undersea-based platforms.

In his opening message for the report, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker said the Navy and Marine Corps are “coupling requirements, resources and acquisition policies to develop, build, integrate and deploy “effective unmanned systems faster.”

Likewise, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said this plan aims to serve as a “comprehensive strategy for realizing a future where unmanned systems serve as an integral part of the Navy’s warfighting team. It will be a living, iterative document that articulates our vision for a more ready, lethal, and capable fleet through accelerations of critical enablers in technology, processes, and partnerships.”

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger noted the plan is a starting point for the service to understand that unmanned system must take greater importance in the near term.

“Concepts such as half of our aviation fleet being unmanned in the near- to mid-term, or most of our expeditionary logistics being unmanned in the near- to mid-term should not frighten anyone. Rather, these ideas should ignite the creative and cunning nature of our Marines so that our forward-deployed forces are even more lethal and useful to the joint force,” Berger wrote.

The campaign plan focuses on eight functional areas: platforms and enablers; strategy, concepts and analysis; fleet capability, capacity, readiness and wholeness; research, development, testing and evaluation/science and technology; people, education and talent; logistics and infrastructure; policy, law and ethics; and communication and messaging.

The Navy said the framework has five main goals: advance manned-unmanned teaming effects within the range of naval and joint operations; build a digital infrastructure that integrates and adopts unmanned capabilities and speed and scale; incentivize rapid incremental development and testing cycles for unmanned systems; disaggregate common problems and then scale solutions solved once to various platforms; and create a capability-centric approach for unmanned contributions to the force.

The Navy intends to develop “a hybrid force of manned and unmanned platforms working together to create a greater naval force for the joint force,” the plan says.

Vice Adm. James Kilby, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfighting Requirements and Capabilities, N9, told reporters Tuesday that “the global security environment as characterized by great power competition necessitates this shift from traditional force structures to a hybrid force of manned and unmanned platforms working together to create a greater naval force for the joint force.”

However, he emphasized “unmanned systems in themselves aren’t a goal, they’re an enabler for a capability based on a threat that is rapidly accelerating.”

While the plan only alludes to the specific platforms across the Navy Department, “we need to tack the enabling technologies that will support all these platforms delivering and being integrated in the force,” Kilby said.

He highlighted that exercises and prototyping are implicit in this, previewing an exercise using unmanned platforms planned for next month led by Pacific Fleet.

“Using them in an experimentation role to help inform us on what other platforms need to be. So there’s a prototyping effort here, there’s experimentation, there’s work by [the Office of Naval Research] and other entities to kind of point us in the right direction,” Kilby said.

Kilby reiterated the campaign analysis is telling the Navy that manned-unmanned teaming “is a powerful makeup to align to future force architecture based on what our adversaries are doing.”

He also said the department leadership is committed to giving the attention needed to ensure all parts of unmanned platforms and capabilities are fully funded and delivered, from the vehicles, payloads, common interfaces and autonomy technologies to spare parts.

The DARPA Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program full-scale Sea Hunter demonstration vehicle, used for modeling as a Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV). (Photo: DARPA)

“The complexity of warfare is driving us to manage this at a different level. Navy Integrated Fire Control Counter Air (NIFC-CA) is one of those examples where I have to align all those programs at once,” Kilby said.

When Acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Jay Stefany “has gate reviews now for platforms, we bring in the enablers, the managers of those links, to make sure they’re pacing and going to deliver with that platform,” Kilby added.

Kilby sought to allay concerns, especially in Congress, on how quickly the Navy is developing these systems.

“There are some things you can look at to see that we’re going to build confidence. One of those things is the land-based engineering test site up in Philadelphia, where we’ve built a propulsion system, currently for the [Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle, MUSV] that we can get confidence in and then Congress feels like we are getting after the [hull, mechanical and engineering] reliability concerns.”

He also pointed to the development of unmanned concepts of operations or CONOPS.

“The first unmanned surface vessel CONOPS was released in December and the second iteration of that is already under development”

Kilby said the first version of the CONOPS, which is classified, highlights work that should be done in the next iteration of the concepts.

Previously, in September Kilby explained the unmanned campaign plan aims to centralize management and leadership of technologies supporting all unmanned platforms (Defense Daily, Sept. 9, 2020).