Navy chief favours speeding up unmanned programs

The US Navy’s top admiral said he hoped to speed up work on unmanned weapons systems, including underwater vehicles and an unmanned combat plane being developed by Northrop Grumman Corp.
“I tend not to want to put things off. I’d rather put a little pressure on the system and get things done,” Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead told reporters after a speech to the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
He cited the Navy’s earlier-than-planned deployment last month of the MQ-8B Fire Scout, an unmanned helicopter also being developed by Northrop, on board an aircraft carrier in the eastern Pacific, and said it was performing “wonderfully.”
But if the Navy had stuck to its original plan, the helicopter would still be going through testing in southern Maryland, he said.
The Navy will continue flight tests and operational evaluations of the helicopter aboard the carrier. Eventually it is to be used aboard a new class of smaller littoral combat warships, working in tandem with a manned H-60 helicopter.
Roughead said there were differing opinions about the technical maturity of the systems involved in the Navy Unmanned Combat Aerial System, but he was pressing to accelerate the program and roll it out sooner than planned.
Some analysts had suggested the program could be slowed down to save money in the short-term.
“I believe that this is an area where I think we can move a little more quickly than what we have in the past. As we do that, I believe that there has to be an acceptance that it’s not all going to be perfect,” he said.
Sometimes it was better to field a system that met 90% of one’s targets and then upgrade it later after learning about its performance and any shortcomings, he said.
Roughead said he was also exploring ways to move forward as quickly as possible on autonomous underwater vehicles, where he said technology was actually further advanced than the Navy’s operational concepts for using such vehicles.
He said the Navy’s decision to reorganize its operations putting intelligence and command and control functions under one leader would allow better decision-making on cyber warfare and unmanned technologies.
He said the pace of technological advancement in both areas necessitated a different way of thinking about future military operations and how the Pentagon buys weapons.
It was important to factor in the people needed to operate service and maintain such systems, as well as the fuel they would consume, to arrive at serious estimates for their long- term operating costs, he said.
He said unmanned weapons were not a panacea for future challenges, but they could prove very useful for helping the US military prevent and prevail in future conflicts.
Roughead said he favoured close cooperation among the military services to ensure unmanned systems had a lot of commonality, which could help save costs and would ensure that they could work together in the future.
“If we don’t do that, we’re going to end up spending more money for the same capability and it won’t be as effective,” he added.

Pic: MQ-8B unmanned helicopter