Tag Archives: Unmanned

Evolution and Role of Naval UAVs

(Published in special edition of Economic Times, India on 04 Dec 2017)

Earliest mention of a drone/unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in the Naval context is found in 1917, when the US Navy commissioned the design of an ‘aerial torpedo’ for use against German U-boats. A contract was awarded to the Curtiss Aeroplane Company, and the airplane was named the Speed-Scout. It was designed to be launched from naval ships carrying a 1,000-lb. payload and to be stabilized by an autopilot. It suffered several failures before it achieved its first successful flight on 06 March 1918, making it the first flight of an UAV. On 15 April 1923, the Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL) specially equipped F5L seaplane was controlled by radio signals up to a range of 10 miles from the transmitter. The NRL also reported that radio control of take-off and landing of aircraft was possible. Project Fox, equipped with a television camera, was developed by The Naval Aircraft Factory in 1941. It was controlled by TG-2 aircraft and successfully carried out torpedo attack on a destroyer in 1942.

McDonnell Aircraft developed a radio-controlled target drone TD2D-1 in 1942 for anti-aircraft and aerial gunnery practice of U.S. Navy. TD2D was gyro-stabilized, radio-controlled and could be recovered by parachute. The Ryan Firebee was a 23-feet long target drone, which could fly at over 700 miles per hour on a pre-programmed flight path. It could be recovered mid-air by a C-130 Hercules with a capture net, or parachute into the sea for recovery. A modified Firebee with cameras called a ‘Lightning Bug’ could fly over a target area and take aerial pictures, it carried out over 3,000 reconnaissance missions in Vietnam. The drones have been tested on carriers, and have flown in combat, the TDR-1s launched from the USS Sable in 1943, and the Firebees took off from the USS Ranger from 1969 to 1970.

The Gyrodyne model QH-50D was a remotely controlled UAV which was built and delivered to the U.S. Navy as the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH). The QH-50D was a rotary-winged, anti-submarine weapon carrier designed primarily to deliver two MK44 acoustic homing torpedoes or a Mk 17 Nuclear depth charge using the W-44 warhead and also had a provision for a ‘classified weapon’.

The maritime UAV serves in national security, paramilitary and wartime missions. It expands the user’s horizons by providing Over The Horizon Targeting (OTHT). In addition, it increases the scanning area, time over target and the mission flexibility. It also serves in real time battle damage assessment. During peacetime, it prevents the penetration of any sea borne hostile intruder, protects the country’s rights and interests in the Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) and supports in Search and Rescue operations. In war-time it assists in achieving naval superiority, helps in destruction of enemy naval forces, defends the coast lines, and supports ground operations (littoral warfare). The role of the Maritime UAV system is to provide unmanned, long endurance aerial reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. In addition, the UAV can create a comprehensive, real time, naval tactical picture for the ship’s commander and naval HQs.

A typical Maritime UAV System consists of at least three aircraft, with ground control system (GCS), Launch & Retrieval Station (LRS), Ground Data Terminal (GDT), Launch & Retrieval Data Terminal (LRDT), and mission oriented Payloads. A typical Payload consists of a Maritime Patrol Radar (MPR) with multi-mode functions, an Electro-Optical sensor with day/night capabilities, and an optional ELINT package. The payload package provides the necessary data for detection, classification, and identification of surface vessels at sea. Having a line of sight data link package provides a system range of 250 km and an air data relay extends the patrolling distance to 350 km.

The launching of UAVs from warships presents less of a challenge than recovery. UAVs can be launched through a variety of catapult options, including rocket-assisted take-off (RATO) as used by the US Navy for embarked Pioneer UAV operations. The IN operates the Lakshya unmanned aerial target system that uses boosters to launch without any ground run. Recovery of UAVs is more problematic than their launch. Vertical landing UAVs can be recovered using manual remote piloting to a conventional vertical landing, or by automatic landing systems such as the US UAV common automatic recovery system (UCARS). Fixed wing UAVs are presently recovered by more extreme methods, such as by flying it into a recovery net, by stopping the motor and ditching it into the water by parachute for a manual recovery, or by mid-air recovery using a manned helicopter or aircraft.

The IN currently operates the Heron and the Searcher MK II UAVs manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries. These are capable of beaming real time live pictures of maritime targets to Commands ashore, thus enhancing the joint defence capability by synergizing capabilities of the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and local authorities. The Ministry of Defense (MoD) has initiated a request to the US for procuring 22 multi-mission Guardian UAVs for the Indian Navy. A RFI has also been issued for 50 ‘Naval Ship-Borne Unmanned Aerial Vehicles’ (NSUAS) for Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR), monitoring of Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), Exclusive Economic Zone safety, anti-piracy, and anti-terrorism functions along with Search and Rescue (S&R) roles. The MoD, is also considering procurement of Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAVs for use by the three defense services.

For the near future, the US Navy is progressing ahead with procurement of The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UAS (BAMS UAS), the Vertical Take-off and Landing UAV (VTUAV) Fire Scout MQ-8B unmanned helicopter, and The Small Tactical UAS (STUAS), RQ-21 Blackjack. The indigenous AURA and Rustom (& its variants) are being developed by DRDO for the Indian Armed Forces.

The question that the Indian Navy faces today is, whether it is ready to go for development of fully autonomous unmanned systems, which would be cable of engaging a target and inflicting lethal damage on their own? Is the Indian Navy willing to develop technologies that empower the vehicle with embedded artificial intelligence to make the final decision to launch weapons at the target independent of any human intervention? If yes, then there is a need for the Indian Navy to look in to:

– technologies and software formulations which would permit an unmanned vehicle to launch itself, proceed to learn acoustic/magnetic/electromagnetic signatures, and identify the target on its own.

– technologies, which are more environmental friendly, for e.g. the use of green plastics of the poly hexahydrotriazines or PHTs category, and green electrical power including its storage for long endurance operations.

– a resilient architecture that can act as a redundant pathway to atmospheric communications through electromagnetic domains including digital communications utilizing fibre domain.

– Distributed manufacturing to enable efficient use of resources, with less wasted capacity in centralized factories, and develop 3D printing of circuit boards and other integrated electronic components.

– cognitive testing aspects of software for unmanned vehicles today to fruitfully operate autonomous vehicles of tomorrow.

– exploring technologies for developing new types of weapons for use in the autonomous vehicles.

– focusing on the technology developments in the commercial sector, especially in the software, and the artificial intelligence sectors. As it appears, the only option is to synergize with the commercial sector to ensure that UAVs become a force multiplier in the next decade.

74. Weaponised Unmanned Vehicles in the Indian Navy: Technology Outlook

(Published IndraStra Global   May 22, 2016 )

In the Navy unmanned vehicles constitute four types of vehicles which operate in aerial, surface-land, surface-sea and underwater environments. Even though more glamorous terms like ‘autonomous vehicles’ are used to describe them, in reality, all these vehicles fall in the category of remotely controlled/piloted robotic vehicles. However, it is also true that in most of these categories, higher and higher degree of autonomous functioning can be built-in with the available technology.

The question that arises before the Indian Navy is whether it is ready to go for development of autonomous unmanned systems, which would be cable of engaging a target and inflicting lethal damage on their own? Is the Indian Navy willing to develop technologies that empower the vehicle with embedded artificial intelligence to make the final decision to launch weapons at the target independent of any human intervention?

It may be worthwhile to look at some innovative technologies, which are going to have a profound effect upon weaponised unmanned vehicles of tomorrow.

Cutting-Edge Artificial Intelligence (AI):

Whereas artificial intelligence would enable an unmanned vehicle to perceive and respond to its changing environment, the cutting edge AI would enable the unmanned vehicle to learn automatically by assimilating large volumes of environmental and tactical information. There is a need for the Indian Navy to look in to technologies and software formulations which  would permit an unmanned vehicle, for example, to launch itself, proceed to learn acoustic, magnetic or electromagnetic signatures and identify the target on its own (as distinct from current weapons like mines, torpedoes and missiles which have a tested and tried inbuilt code). The need to pursue technologies that would enable it to go a step further by taking a decision to launch its weapons could be looked at  in future.

Profound/ Deep Learning in respect of Unmanned Vehicles:

There is a definite need to look into Profound or / Deep learning technological issues since for most of the areas of their operations, unmanned vehicles would be required to accumulate vast amounts of data/ intelligence inputs from the surroundings, process it and upload it to systems for decision making by humans. Fundamentally, advanced algorithms need to be developed for unmanned vehicles through which the vehicle on its own can differentiate changes from the normal that need to be highlighted for predicting a future course of events by the analysts. Since Unmanned underwater vehicles would operational for periods extending over months at a time,one area of importance could be to make the vehicle unlearn (specific areas it has self-written the codes for), since it occupies memory space or it may no longer remain relevant.

Green Technologies for Unmanned Vehicles:

As the Unmanned systems race to achieve higher and higher levels of autonomous operations, there is a need to look into technologies, which would make unmanned vehicles more environmental friendly, like the use of green plastics of the poly hexahydrotriazines or PHTs category, which provide the same strength but are biodegradable. Similar advances need to be explored for providing the unmanned vehicles with green electrical power and its storage for long endurance operations.  Neuromorphic Technology.  Neuromorphic chips are designed to process information by mimicking human brain’s architecture resulting in massive computing and processing power. These combine data storage and data processing components in same interconnected modules thus providing power as well as energy efficiency.

Communications Pathways:

Satellites are not the only pathway for reliable communications, be it for data, voice, or command & control. There is a requirement for a resilient architecture that can act as a redundant pathway to atmospheric communications (including underwater) through electromagnetic domains including digital communications utilizing fiber domain. Fiber carries far larger bandwidth than what can be carried through the satellite systems. Multiple pathways would provide greater safety and protection to the cyber networks. Technologies need to be developed, to make the network physically resilient to deal with High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP), and to make the network react by itself to tampering by external actors.

Additive Manufacturing Technology:

Distributed manufacturing enables efficient use of resources, with less wasted capacity in centralized factories. It also reduces the amount of capital required to build the first prototypes and products. Further, it limits the overall environmental impact of manufacturing since digital information is transferred over the internet with local sourcing of raw materials. However, Additive manufacturing poses a potentially disruptive challenge to conventional processes and supply chains. Its nascent applications in aerospace sectors need to be developed for the unmanned systems across the Naval unmanned requirement. There is a need to examine and develop 3D printing of circuit boards and other integrated electronic components. Currently, Nano scale component integration into 3D printing is a formidable challenge for this technology. Taking a step further, adaptive-additive technologies (4D printing) would be ushering in products that would be responsive to the natural environment (like temperature and humidity) around them.

Test and evaluations of Unmanned Systems:

Test and evaluation of collaborative (Humans and robotic) systems is a big technological leap that needs to be addressed at the earliest. As of now, there is no software, which can test a collaborative system both physically, and intellectually, once an unmanned system has been tasked to learn on its own, it should have the capability to convey the extent of its learning as it progresses in its knowledge acquisition process. Navy needs to delve into cognitive testing aspects of software for unmanned vehicles today to fruitfully operate autonomous vehicles of tomorrow.

Disruptive Unmanned Warfare:

Autonomous vehicles have ushered in a paradigm shift from the few big, expensive, and lethal weapons to large numbers of small, cheap, and smart unmanned systems capable of swarming the adversary. The unmanned vehicles today can carry significant amounts of weapons utilizing new designs of weapons with nano materials. The Navy needs to explore technologies for developing new types of weapons for use in the autonomous vehicles.

Finally, the Indian Navy has to focus in the coming years on the technology developments in the commercial sector which have outpaced the developments in the military; especially in the software; and the artificial intelligence sector. It has to seek ways and means to synergize the commercial sector developments such that it can become a force multiplier ushering in the next RMA.