Rear Adm. Robert P. Girrier assumed duties as the director for Unmanned Warfare Systems (OPNAV N99) on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) in Sept. 2015. He is responsible for the rapid development, prototyping and demonstration of U.S. Naval unmanned warfare systems, including underwater, surface and aerial platforms.
Rear Adm. Girrier responded to questions in writing in early October.
Q: I think you must have the coolest job on the OPNAV Staff because of the endless possibilities for UAVs with the advances in autonomy, data transmission and miniaturized computing power. Can you discuss the unmanned systems the Navy is currently prototyping and their mission areas?
A: Certainly, unmanned warfare systems provide Navy with vast opportunities to increase our forward presence, operational effectiveness and warfighting resilience. They are expanding our warfare capabilities in the air, surface, undersea, ground, and information domains today and will continue to do so in the future.
Our current prototyping efforts are in response to high priority near- and mid-term warfighting needs and the results inform our strategies, concepts of operations and warfare requirements — as well as future fleet design. These include a Large Displacement and Extra-Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV/XLUUV), as well as a medium-sized UUV, to conduct a wide range of defensive and offensive mission tasking to enhance our undersea warfighting capability.
In the air domain, we are applying the lessons learned from the successful testing and carrier landing of the X-47B demonstrator to our MQ-25A Stingray Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).
In the surface domain, we are working closely with the fleet, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and ONR (Office of Naval Research) on the potential warfighting capabilities the Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV) can provide our force, including various mission payloads that will be tested over the next couple of years.
Q: With the cancellation of the Remote Mine Hunting System in February, is the Navy still pursuing development of an autonomous minehunting vehicle?
A: The Navy continues to invest in autonomous vehicles for minehunting, thereby reducing risk to our force, increasing on station time, and providing flexibility in tactics and response techniques. Several autonomous technologies remain in the LCS Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Mission Package, including the Common Unmanned Surface Vessel (CUSV), which will be fitted to accommodate an influence sweep payload as well as minehunting payload, and the Knifefish UUV, which will use Low Frequency Broad Band (LFBB) technology to hunt for buried and bottom mines.
The Navy will continue to invest in these and other autonomous MCM technologies to provide a warfighting advantage to our force.
Q: How is the Navy going to integrate unmanned air systems into the carrier strike group and what missions will the MQ-25 perform?
A: The Navy is committed to carrier unmanned aviation and the MQ-25 is the next step in the Navy’s integration of unmanned air systems in the carrier strike group’s operational environment. MQ-25 will leverage existing Navy programs and industry investment to reduce overall program costs, increase system design maturity, and ensure interoperability with existing systems. MQ-25 will significantly extend carrier air wing mission effectiveness by delivering a carrier-based airborne tanking capability.
Q: How will the attribute of being unmanned impact the requirement for tanking and improve the mission effectiveness of the carrier air wing?
A: Unmanned aerial refueling will extend the performance, efficiency, and safety of manned aircraft and provide longer range and greater endurance to execute missions that otherwise could not be performed. The ability of the carrier air wing to provide an organic refueling capability is essential for performing blue water flight operations and achieving meaningful, extended-range combat strike capabilities. The F/A-18E/F currently provides an organic tanking capability to the carrier air wing, but the airframe is nearing the end of production and has a limited capability for long-range mission tanking.
Prior to MQ-25, there was no program to replace the refueling mission capability currently conducted by the Navy’s strike fighters, which are in high demand. The greatest physical stressors on carrier-borne aircraft are catapult launches and arrested landings. A persistent unmanned aerial refueling capability offers maintenance and airframe life-cycle efficiencies never before achievable in Naval Aviation. MQ-25 will continue to evolve over time and will provide the operational foundation for future unmanned and optionally manned programs well into the future.
Q: Do autonomous vehicles have a role to play in all the Navy's warfare missions? Will they be integrated into the Navy's vision for Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA)?
A: Autonomous vehicles do have a role to play across the Navy's five essential functions of all domain access, deterrence, sea control, power projection, and maritime security. Autonomous unmanned systems are key, connectable nodes to provide additional warfighting capability and capacity for conducting distributed maritime operations. By increasing the number of unmanned systems with their sensors and payloads — and teaming them on existing and future manned platforms — we expand the presence, performance and resilience of Naval forces.
We are working to integrate unmanned systems not only into our vision for Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA), but across all distributed detect-to-engage sequences from the seabed to space. For example, DARPA's Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN), a long endurance UAS, interconnected with other unmanned surface and undersea vehicles, and manned platforms, will expand warfare mission capabilities.
Q: With all the various autonomous sensors providing mission data to a strike group commander, for example, is there a plan for how the data will be processed into actionable intelligence?
A: It starts with our Distributed Tasking, Collection, Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (TCPED) Strategy. Each intelligence discipline — signals (SIGINT), geospatial (GEOINT) and acoustic (ACINT) — is deciding how it will support remote operations and where and how it will process the corresponding data. This approach applies to both manned and unmanned platforms. The key to taking the explosion of sensor data and processing it into actionable intelligence is the inclusion of automation, including data correlation tools like Minotaur.
Minotaur automatically fuses sensor data with existing tracks in the Common Operating Picture (COP), allowing human analysts to focus on the complex problems that arise and would commonly be lost in a sea of ambiguous sensor data. It is critical to employ tools that remove hay from the stack to expose the needles.
The second part is the enterprise shift to analyze data in a multi-INT environment like Sealink Advanced Analysis (S2A), to allow access to the data by the entire Intelligence Community (IC) as well as afloat intelligence centers. In some cases, data will automatically update the COP without any human involvement. Once implemented, operators will be enabled to look at fused data from multiple sensors across several platforms, including unmanned systems, focusing on the data that is most relevant to the targets — which becomes the path towards actionable intelligence for the Commanders.
Q: The U.S. Navy is not the only entity deploying autonomous sensors and vehicles, how will the Navy suppress electromagnetic interference from commercial UAS or jamming from enemy platforms, for example, and retain maneuverability and sustainability within the electromagnetic spectrum?
A: As with manned platforms, we will certainly address electromagnetic interference and adversary actions that would affect the operational effectiveness and survivability of our unmanned warfare systems. Robust system networks and cyber protections are similarly necessary.
Naval intelligence threat projections and assessments will guide unmanned system solutions to counter Electronic Warfare (EW) and Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) challenges.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to discuss?
A: Thank you for the opportunity. It’s an exciting time for unmanned warfare systems.