Rear Adm. Winter is the program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons at Patuxent River, Maryland. The admiral responded to questions in writing in early June.
Q: Can you talk about the different unmanned systems in your portfolio?
A: PEO (U&W) is responsible for the development, procurement and life cycle management of the Department of the Navy’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) capabilities. Our currently fielded systems range from small, hand-held UAVs operated by Marines on the frontlines, to our high-altitude maritime UAS, known as Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator (BAMS-D), which is providing maritime surveillance in Fifth Fleet.
Our RQ-11B Raven, RQ-12A Wasp and RQ-20A Puma, each weighing less than 20 pounds, can be hand-launched and provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and target acquisition to the warfighter on the ground.
The expeditionary RQ-21A Blackjack, which will be operated from both ships and land sites, is ideally suited for humanitarian or combat operations where getting real-time intelligence to the on-scene commander is critical.
The RQ-7B Shadow is currently the primary UAS flown by the four Marine Corps Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VMU) squadrons and continues to serve as the main unmanned tactical platform for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting (ISR &T) support to Marine Expeditionary Brigade and force-sized operations for the foreseeable future.
Aviation detachments on Navy combatant ships are operating our unmanned helicopter, the MQ-8 Fire Scout, which complements the manned MH-60 by extending the range and endurance of ship-based intelligence gathering operations.
Our cargo-carrying unmanned helicopter, K-MAX, is wrapping up a three-year deployment in Afghanistan, which was originally intended as a six-month demonstration. This system carried over 4 million pounds of cargo, keeping trucks off the ground and our troops out of harm’s way.
The X-47B demonstration program’s objective is to demonstrate the feasibility of operating an unmanned carrier-sized aircraft in the harsh, dynamic and complex environment of the aircraft carrier. The U.S. Navy/industry team successfully demonstrated all objectives and continues to operate the X-47B at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. Leveraging the X-47B lessons learned, we will introduce our first carrier-based unmanned system within the next decade, known as the Unmanned Carrier Launch Surveillance and Strike or UCLASS. This system will provide a 24/7 ISR and targeting capability, which will shape a more efficient carrier air wing.
The Navy’s largest investment in unmanned aircraft to date, the MQ-4C Triton, will bring unparalleled awareness of the maritime environment with the capability to maintain five continuous orbits around the globe. Teamed with its manned-capability counterpart, the P-8A, Triton will be a key component of the Navy’s family of systems to achieve maritime domain awareness.
I envision our PEO’s role in the development of UAS will continue to play a critical role for the future warfighter as the Navy’s use of unmanned systems increases, particularly in the maritime domain.
Q: Navy unmanned systems had a number of stunning successes in 2013, are you pleased with the progress made?
A: Pleased would be an understatement. 2013 was a historic year for naval aviation. We had a number of “firsts” for our unmanned platforms beginning with the first catapult launch of the X-47B from the USS George H.W. Bush last May. Just a few months later, we landed on that same ship for the first time.
Also in May, we completed the first flight of the MQ-4C Triton. This event was followed by one of the most successful envelope expansion testing that I have ever witnessed in my career.
The RQ-21A Blackjack, successfully completed its first ever ship-based flight. We added another first when the new, larger “C” variant of the MQ-8 Fire Scout system completed its initial flight on the West Coast.
I am incredibly proud of the progress made in 2013. That being said, we have a number of milestones on the horizon and I’m really looking forward to what we can complete over the next several months.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face with the development of a UAS and how are you addressing those challenges?
A: With any new technology come[s] its challenges. When we think of how UAS programs were originally procured, the requirements were based on interactions with existing platforms within predetermined mission sets and with predetermined users — and their control systems controlled one vehicle type. Today, we are developing a common control system that in the very near future will have the capability to control multiple platforms.
We are also challenged to meet dynamic Information Dominance needs of the Navy, so PEO(U&W) is transitioning our acquisition strategies and management perspective for the Naval UAS Portfolio to a Family of Systems (FoS) viewpoint, allowing commanders flexibility to employ UAS, regardless of the mission type, operational environment or user. This requires systems with open and standardized architectures; standardized interfaces and data models; common components, and defined, tested and certified interoperable capabilities. We are continually collaborating with the Army, Air Force and coalition/NATO partners on these efforts.
Advanced autonomy and integrated warfare capabilities also present opportunities for the future of UAS. These opportunities will only be achieved if we begin now to develop the relationships, behaviors, and technical foundation required for the next generation of unmanned systems. Our goal is to increase the range of autonomous operations, from takeoff and landing capabilities to fully completing a mission without human intervention, which will ultimately help the Navy achieve its affordability requirements and increase operational capacity.
Our talented team within the PEO, and across Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), continues to stay at the forefront of that technology so we stay competitive on a global scale.
Q: Integration of unmanned systems into other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, like the P-8A Poseidon, is essential to future operations and part of the Navy’s vision for Information Dominance. As well as the development, is your office responsible for the integration piece?
A: With an increased number of unmanned aircraft in the Department of the Navy’s inventory, interoperability among systems is increasingly important. The Navy is focused on commonality and integration with fleet and joint assets. To truly capitalize on the capabilities of unmanned systems, these assets must operate seamlessly across the air, ground and maritime domains and also complement with manned aircraft. The goal is to build a collaborative operational environment to increase situational awareness on land and at sea. Our common standards and interoperability (CSI) team is working to establish standards that will ensure we provide the warfighter with the interoperability needed to best execute the assigned mission. CSI also collaborates with our sister services to ensure we achieve the desired interoperability in any future joint operations.
The Department of the Navy has a dedicated unmanned capability strategy. Unmanned aviation sponsorship is organizationally aligned to our counterparts on the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) staff, [Deputy Chief of Naval Operations] OPNAV N2/N6 [Information Dominance]. We continuously work together to mature this strategy to better align to our warfighter’s requirements, resource more efficiently, and generate acquisition strategies that are effective and affordable.
Q: You have said that the Navy’s intent is to blend manned and unmanned systems at all levels of war fighting, for example, Triton/P-8, Fire Scout/H-60 and unmanned carrier launch airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) with manned carrier air wings. This is a huge change to operations, how do you see the transition rolling out over time?
A: The testing of our manned/unmanned blend of systems that we have done in the past and will do in the future, whether that includes Fire Scout/Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)/H-60, P-8/Triton, X-47B/carrier, demonstrates effective unmanned aviation integration at sea that is key to providing our Navy the affordable warfighting capabilities they need to be where it matters, when it matters.
Integrating unmanned systems is the hallmark of a cultural shift in the Navy. To give you context, the BAMS-Demonstrator, on its 63rd month of what was planned to be a six-month demonstration, remains in theater because it’s operating and providing the warfighter incredible capability. BAMS-D has proved to be a force multiplier in working with manned aircraft, P-3s and P-8s, in the broad area of maritime surveillance domain. When you come down to a tactical level for our littoral combat ships, we’re working to deploy LCS with a blend of MH-60 manned and MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned assets to best provide countermine, surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Eventually we’ll integrate UCLASS into carrier air wings where we’ll deploy both tactical manned and unmanned vehicles to conduct fully integrated operations.
What we’ve been working on, and will continue to work with the fleet and our resource sponsors, is to truly integrate UAS capabilities that augment and enhance current manned capabilities.
Q: UAVs have the advantage of persistence, what other advantages do they have?
A: In addition to persistence, unmanned systems open up opportunities to increase capacity, rapidly introduce new capabilities, reduce costs, and to keep our Sailors and Marines out of harm’s way. With advances in autonomy, we can envision one day having a single operator control numerous vehicles. Not only will this allow for increased capacity (number of airborne sensors and weapons), it will also reduce personnel costs since we won’t have to dedicate a pilot or aircrew to each platform. In addition to reduced personnel costs, the air vehicle itself costs less since it does not have to integrate human support and safety systems. Additionally, this frees up space and weight requirements normally required for those systems allowing for greater design flexibility — for example, the integration of more sensors or fuel load capacity for increased endurance or greater design flexibility in air vehicle shape and size to name a few. One of the key advantages of UAS is the ability to take our Sailors and Marines out of harm’s way. UAS can conduct missions that would normally expose our warfighters to danger. Today our use of a cargo dedicated UAS demonstrator showed how we could keep manned convoys off dangerous roads. I envision that one day we’ll develop concept of operations (CONOPS) to initially engage and neutralize an enemy’s air defense system primarily using UAS thereby reducing the exposure of our manned aircraft aircrews. I’m confident that we’ll leverage these and other unique capabilities of UAS to augment our manned capabilities in such a way as to best achieve our affordable warfighting objectives.
Editor’s Note: The Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert announced June 9 that Rear Adm. Mat Winter has been selected for the rank of rear admiral and will be assigned as chief of Naval Research; and director, Innovation, Technology Requirements, and Test and Evaluation, Arlington, Virginia.