WEST BETHESDA, Md. -- The Unmanned Systems Facilities workshop held by the office of the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for unmanned systems (DASN UxS) and hosted by Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division
Sept. 19-20 was just one step in the process to realize the future of unmanned systems within the Department of the Navy (DON). Specifically, the workshop at Carderock's West Bethesda, Maryland, headquarters dealt with facilities to test UxS and train the human operators.
The facilities workshop included representatives from across the Department of the Navy, to include Office of Naval Research (ONR), Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) and Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (NMOC), as well as from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority and NASA Wallops Flight Facility.
Ryan Fitzgerald, the director of technology for DASN UxS, and Andy Van Scyoc, DASN UxS chief of staff, facilitated the workshop at Carderock. Fitzgerald explained to attendees how the DASN UxS office got to this point since its establishment in November 2015.
"One of our tasks was to develop a comprehensive DON roadmap for unmanned systems," Fitzgerald said.
Three primary steps served to inform the roadmap: first, establishing the 2030+ vision for unmanned systems, whether in the open ocean, the littorals or in the Arctic; second, defining the barriers to realizing the vision; and last, identifying specific action items to overcome those barriers. In all, approximately 250 action items were identified. From all these inputs, DASN UxS developed the DON Strategic Roadmap for Unmanned Systems and submitted it to the assistant secretary of the Navy in early 2017.
Fitzgerald said the goal of the series of summer workshops was to address the 250 action items. The recent facilities workshop at Carderock examined a handful of those action items in detail. Action items ranged from the capability to adequately test autonomy, which cannot be done deterministically, to duplicating conditions and threats in the unique operating environments that unmanned systems will face in the future. Discussions also included the benefits and drawbacks to modifying current facilities and ranges or developing new ones to test and train in the land, air and sea environments for future cross-domain unmanned systems.
"This workshop was identifying that we may have gaps in our facilities. In order for us to test and evaluate autonomy and gain trust in autonomous systems, we need to explore the facility capabilities," said Reid McAllister, director for Carderock's Integrated Unmanned Maritime Mobility Systems (Code 00X). He is also the co-lead of NAVSEA Warfare Centers' Unmanned Vehicles and Autonomous Systems Working Group (UVAS WG), along with Dr. Brian McKeon, department head of Undersea Warfare Weapons, Vehicles and Defensive Systems at Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC), Newport Division.
McAllister said the UVAS WG was established in September 2015 as a collaborative effort across the Warfare Centers for multi-domain unmanned systems, meaning undersea, surface, air and ground capabilities. The group has an active role within the DASN (UxS) Roadmap, as part of the Navy Research and Development Establishment.
For Lee Mastroianni, a program manager from ONR, determining the future of researching and testing unmanned systems is very important because it is sometimes hard to see how some of the testing will take place, especially when a multi-domain autonomous mission is required.
"I've run across a lot of interesting scenarios that I scratch my head and say, how am I actually going to be able to test that in the near future," Mastroianni said. "We are really good at individual, single unmanned platforms with low op-tempo, not too complex of an environment. We've been doing that for a while. But technology is evolving a lot faster than that. A lot of our facilities, our ranges, our policies, our instrumentation, our expertise, our personnel — it's moving a lot faster than the technology we can keep up with in order to evaluate it."
According to Fitzgerald, technology advances are not as much of a barrier as some of the cultural, policy and legal obstacles. The input gathered at the workshops in these areas will be crucial to the larger plan of successfully integrating unmanned systems.
"We have so many S&T (science and technology) organizations that are in the business of that technology development," Fitzgerald said. "We can take the desire for technological advances and map it on to ONR's S&T framework. That's already an action plan, so a workshop is not required."
Before a workshop is held, Fitzgerald's group reaches out to the unmanned systems community to find out what people are working on and how it might relate to the action items. During the workshop, they hold leveling briefs to get all the attendees on the same page.
"The community members know what they are working on," Fitzgerald said. "What we are seeing is people realizing that there are some synergies that can be had, some collaboration. That's a great connection to start with. Then, given where we are, we work together to try to determine who should be heading up each of these actions, who should be supporting that organization, and then what do the stakeholders need to implement."
Fitzgerald said the DASN UxS team will gather all the out briefs and discussion points taken from the summer workshops and give them a holistic overview before generating any results or output, which the community can expect some time next year.
Andy Van Scyoc contributed to this story.