Leaders within the government and military are recognizing that autonomous marine technology offers a major competitive advantage for national security and defense; Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR); rescue and relief efforts; and environmental research. At a time when budgets are lean, the ability to operate military and government vessels in autonomous, semi-autonomous and unmanned modes means units can do more with less, at reduced risk and cost, for a wide variety of missions.
The following outlines several of the most-common use cases for autonomy, and how it can deliver greater performance when lives, progress and freedom are on the line.
Defense, Surveillance and Security
For branches charged with defense of people, assets or borders, marine autonomy enables surface vessels to operate with increased productivity, predictability and safety via pre-programmed vessel movements and navigation plans. Autonomous marine technology lets a single, shore-based operator command and control an entire unmanned fleet of vessels and create tactical advantages. These fleets can be programmed to work collaboratively in covering large surveillance areas in less time.
The escorting of ships carrying high-value cargo is also made more efficient and effective, as autonomous security boats can be programmed to match the speed and course of the assets to which they’re assigned.
Obstacle detection and avoidance capabilities reduce risk of collisions and enable automatic re-routing around a hazard or target before safely resuming the planned course.
Because autonomous marine technology integrates with common situational awareness tools and systems – such as radar, AIS, GPS and non-emitting sensors – autonomous defense vessels can execute missions with little to no human intervention, and with increased situational awareness. Sensor fusion offers advantages in the Identification of Friend or Foe (IFF) because recognized objects are paired with marine traffic data. In the case of an encroaching vessel, this match-up provides a target’s name and flag, speed, course and more to an on-board or on-shore operator, enabling faster classification of the approaching object as safe, suspicious or a threat.
Remote payload control allows an off-site operator command of on-board equipment, such as cameras, cranes, launch stations, weapons and gear, antipiracy tools and more. Remotely operated sensors and cameras can be used to detect aerial, surface-level and sub-sea threats, which are critical for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW); interdictory operations; mine hunting; heat, chemical or nuclear detection; drug and human trafficking prevention; and more. From nearly any location, an operator can access this payload data and engage equipment to safely and successfully complete missions.
For special operations, minimally manned and unmanned marine operations allow for removal of military personnel from potential hostage situations. Unmanned drone boats can serve as diversions, allowing crewed boats to complete missions safely. In extreme cases, antipiracy equipment can be used aboard unmanned surface vessels (USVs), by off-site operators who can remotely control on-board cameras, sensors and security equipment, and can even delete sensitive on-board data and override controls. Ultimately, unmanned vessels can take on the most dangerous and unpleasant work, invaluably protecting the warfighter.
Read more about how autonomous marine technology enables patrol and security workboats.
ISR and Communications
ISR/Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) work is a significant undertaking by the government, and one that demands deep resources. Autonomous surface vessels can now add value by playing a critical role in ocean surveillance systems – which can include reconnaissance satellites, surveillance sub-sea vessels, underwater sensors and maritime patrol aircraft. A vital link to the assets above and below them, unmanned surface boats can be stationed long-term at sea to serve as the gateway of the communication chain that feeds branches critical and encrypted data. Autonomous boats do this much more predictably, cost effectively and without the need to staff a team at sea long-term.
Another challenge USVs can help to solve is energy reserves at sea. Autonomous vessels can be equipped to serve as a “floating battery,” providing enough power to connect stand-off vessels to SATCOMs.
In situations where traditional communications or GPS data has been compromised, unmanned vessels can serve as low-frequency Positioning Navigation and Timing (PNTs), providing situational awareness and stealth to other aerial, surface-level and underwater assets. For scenarios where GPS has been denied or jammed, USVs can act as a pseudo-lite for precision navigation reference.
Rescue and Relief
Autonomous marine assets can support rescue operations, expeditionary logistics and humanitarian relief efforts because they can deliver cargo, ammunition and personnel faster and more cost-effectively. For warfighters who are captured in hostile or remote areas, mission leaders can rapidly deploy unmanned surface vessels in support of their life-saving extractions. Entire fleets can also be programmed to collaboratively execute sweeping patterns to more productively search for downed planes or vessels in water.
Following disasters near coastal areas, an unmanned vessel stationed near shore can provide a signal to restore communications and connectivity. Autonomous surface vessels can also offer medical support by acting as efficient “floating hospitals.” A minimally crewed ship allows more room for medical staff and patients, and operates more predictably and safely.
Research and Environmental Assessments
For marine scientists and researchers, computerized route planning yields greater productivity and increased predictability – major advantages for sectors facing limited resources. Object detection and avoidance ensures data-optimized re-routing in seconds, so exploration can resume faster. Remote payload control means that unmanned research boats can collect more samples and data with greater accuracy and reduced cost. Elimination of on-board personnel when conditions are poor mitigates against missions being compromised by sea-sickness or human injury.
Read more about how autonomous marine technology aids hydrographic survey work.
Maximizing Mission Success, Reducing Effort and Cost
One of the most important advantages marine autonomy offers is its ability help prioritize manpower for the most important actions and decisions. Government and military divisions that capitalize on manned and unmanned teaming for marine operations can maximize productivity predictability and safety, while reducing risk and cost. Additionally, purposeful technology innovation is a critical pursuit for global leaders as they work to stay one step ahead of adversaries.
Sea Machines autonomous-command and remote-control technologies make all of this possible, without the need to build new, costly special-purpose autonomous vessels. Our products can be quickly installed aboard fleets to add an immediate increase in capability, productivity, predictability and safety for all types of government and military marine missions.