Dramatic New Possibilities for Autonomy in Future Naval Missions In October the USN’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) demonstrated the capability for a swarm of RHIB to collectively perform naval missions autonomously, with only remote human supervision, thus revealing dramatic new possibilities for autonomy in future naval missions.
“This demonstration showed some remarkable advances in autonomous capabilities,” said Cmdr. Luis Molina, Military Deputy for ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Dept. “While previous work had focused on autonomous protection of high-value ships, this time we were focused on harbour approach defence.” The autonomy technology being developed by ONR is called Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing (CARACaS). Embodying COTS components, the solution offers relatively inexpensive alternative to using manned craft for harbor defence.
ONR mounted the first demonstration of CARACaS technologies in 2014 – the 2016 demonstration builds on the lessons learned at that time. Substantial capability has been added, including the ability for multiple USV to collaborate on task allocation; the development of additional USV behaviors and tactics; and advances in automated vessel classification from imagery. “This technology allows unmanned Navy ships to overwhelm an adversary,” added Molina. “Its sensors and software enable swarming capability, giving naval warfighters a decisive edge.”
“The U.S. Navy knows our most important asset, without question, is our highly trained military personnel,” said Dr. Robert Brizzolara, the Program Officer at ONR who oversees the effort. “The autonomy technology we are developing for our sailors and marines is versatile enough that it will assist them in performing many different missions, and it will help keep them safer.”
Naval leadership in recent years has emphasised a blended future force, leveraging the synergy of using manned and unmanned systems to complement each other. In the near future, unmanned boats can take on some dangerous missions, thereby protecting the warfighter, and they can do that in great numbers at a fraction of the cost of a single manned warship. Furthermore, these small boats are already in the Navy’s inventory (as manned craft) and can quickly and inexpensively be converted to an autonomous boat via the installation of a CARACaS kit.