The Next Frontier of Uncrewed Systems Integration

In an era of great power competition, uncrewed maritime systems (UMS) have begun to take center stage and are now on an accelerated development path for reasons that are clear.

Like their air and ground counterparts, these UMSs are valued because of their ability to reduce the risk to human life in high threat areas, to deliver persistent surveillance over areas of interest, and to provide options to warfighters that derive from the inherent advantages of uncrewed technologies.

While air, surface, and subsurface systems have undergone extensive evaluation in Navy and Marine Corps exercises, experiments and demonstrations, their development has been somewhat stovepiped, that is, these evaluations have typically occurred in just one domain. Given the new technologies that these systems represent, this “crawl, walk, run” approach has represented best-practices.


Today, that is changing. Operators have conjured up concepts-of-operations (CONOPS) where uncrewed systems in various domains have been evaluated together in Navy and Marine Corps events. Rather than speak in generalities, I will refer to a specific and recent event where uncrewed systems in different domains were operated together with good success.

During a comprehensive Navy exercise designed to evaluate the ability of uncrewed technologies to perform the MCM mission, the Navy harnessed together three commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) systems to provide an end-to-end autonomous MCM capability.


The MARTAC Devil Ray T38 high-speed catamaran provided the host platform for the other two components, and served as a communications and data transmission hub, and featured a ramp-deck-aft configuration for autonomous launch and recovery of these subsystems.

The ThayerMahan Sea Scout Subsea Imaging System is specifically designed for missions such as mine-hunting. The Sea Scout system is founded on the in-production COTS Kraken Robotics Katfish-180 tow-body mounted synthetic aperture sonar. The system is designed to search for mine-like objects (MLOs).

The Pluto Gigas Mine Neutralization System (MNS) Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) is an existing, stand-alone, third generation MNS with several systems deployed globally. The Pluto Gigas deploys an acoustically armed and detonated countermine charge. Several charges enable a single-sortie field clearance.

To be clear, this is not a platform-specific solution, but rather a concept. When operators see a capability with any uncrewed COTS platforms in the water successfully performing the MCM mission, they will likely press industry to produce even more-capable platforms to undertake the autonomous mine-hunting and mine-clearing task and take the sailor out of the minefield.

Throughout 2024 and beyond, the Navy and Marine Corps are conducting an ambitious series of exercises, experiments, and demonstrations to evaluate the ability of uncrewed maritime vehicles to support multiple missions. Readers of Ocean News & Technology would be well-served to read future issues of this magazine to learn more about how the Navy is pursuing uncrewed maritime systems integration.

This feature originally appeared in ON&T’s March 2024 issue. Click here to read more. 



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