The Future of Unmanned Maritime Systems

By David MillerNovember 16, 2020

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –The U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative hosted the Future of Unmanned Maritime Systems Webinar on November 12, 2020. The webinar discussed observations and insights regarding China, Russia, and the United States’ development and future use of unmanned maritime systems that range from small to large and have a variety of operational uses.

In the future operational environment, the Army will operate through a multi-domain operations (MDO) warfighting concept and framework. The maritime domain will be a critical part of this fight. The Army may be called upon to counter sea-based threats, help open sea lanes, and require support and enabling capabilities from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. It is paramount for us to understand the threats and capabilities of the future in this domain.

The three panelists for the event were; Kelvin Wong, Unmanned Systems Editor of Janes International Defence Review magazine and the editor of Janes Unmanned Maritime Vehicles; Samuel Bendett, Research Analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses' International Affairs Group and a member of the Russia Studies Program; and Montrell Smith, Assistant Program Manager for Advanced Autonomous Capabilities in the Unmanned Maritime Systems (UMS) Program Office at the Naval Sea Systems Command.  

Wong started the discussion by delving into China’s current development and future plans and for unmanned maritime vehicle systems (UMV).

According to Wong, “China is rapidly developing and fielding unmanned maritime vehicles for a diverse range of surface and subsea applications. The People’s Liberation Army Navy views UMVs as force multipliers. Unmanned platforms are seen as a potential solution to comparatively poor quality of recruits, as well as resources that can be more readily expended to meet military objectives."

One of the most interesting surface-based UMVs being developed by China is the JARI-USV multi-purpose unmanned combat ship. This ship heralds the realization of multi-domain/lethal autonomous swarming for China and attaches great importance to multi-purpose capabilities, adopts a modular design, can carry air defense, sea-facing, anti-submarine, and other mission loads, has flexible reorganization capabilities for combat missions, and can launch missiles and torpedoes. It can also perform all-around tasks such as anti-submarine operations, air-to-air operations, and sea-to-sea operations.

While China's government and private industry continue developing UMVs, Russia is already using UMVs in many different ways. Bendett highlighted this fact and other ways Russia will use UMVs in the future.

The Advanced Research Foundation, the Russian equivalent of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, founded in 2012, stated that it is planning fully autonomous underwater, under-ice unmanned vehicles, and is working on the development of autonomous maritime systems for exploring hydrocarbon fields in the Arctic seas with severe ice conditions.”

"Arctic exploration and security have emerged as one of the key Russian military policies for the past several years,” said Bendett. He also pointed out that some Russian UMVs are developed with the Russian Navy in mind.

Bendett also spoke about Russia’s announcement of a global network of underwater, aerial surface, and autonomous unmanned vehicles.

“They (Russia) want to connect all maritime and land assets into a single network. They’re developing new command and control structures, principles, and technical solutions. The point is to connect all Russia maritime surface and subsurface assets into a single system,” said Bendett.

The modernization of the U.S. military is critical to being able to conduct MDO.

According to Smith, the U.S. Navy is making significant investments to meet emerging military challenges in tomorrow's fight.

The Navy is pursuing a family of systems approach to developing a portfolio of unmanned undersea vehicles, unmanned surface vehicles, and unmanned aerial vehicles to support strategic objectives.

Smith stated, “There is a clear demand for the U.S. Navy to develop and field affordable, lethal, scalable and connected capabilities and significant investment has been made over the past three years.”

The event concluded by highlighting the importance of increased UMV development as technology becomes better, cheaper, and smaller and showed that the United States, China, and Russia are going down similar paths to meet their military goals.

Previous Mad Scientist Initiative events have focused on future learning, bioengineering, disruptive technologies, megacities, and dense urban areas and identifying other opportunities for further assessment and experimentation.

More information about the Mad Scientist Initiative can be found at The Mad Scientist Laboratory,