As the old slogan goes, the Navy is not just a job, it’s an adventure. In the future, it looks like we’ll be sending fewer people and more robots on that adventure.
The Navy this week released it’s Unmanned Campaign Framework, a 40-page plan to use unmanned vehicles to “build a more lethal and distributed naval force for the future.”
Why unmanned? The report points to several reasons, including cost and the ability to take aggressive actions while reducing risks to the Sailors’ lives. But the big driver is the Navy’s need to be in as many places as possible to counter China and Russia.
“Today’s global security environment has seen a return to Great Power Competition,” it states. “This shift has placed the Department at an inflection point, and we cannot continue with a traditional force structure in the face of new warfighting demands.”
It also notes America’s National Defense Strategy, which warns that because of China and Russia, “America’s military has no preordained right to victory on the battlefield.”
In a March 18 hearing before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, top Navy officials echoed these themes and made it clear the Navy is essentially in a new arms race. Jay Stefany, acting assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition, told lawmakers that, “Time is not on our side.”
Vice Admiral James Kilby, deputy chief of Naval Operations, Warfighting Requirements and Capabilities, said the Navy is being “driven by adversaries” to create a more complex naval problem for them to solve.
It’s still early days. The Navy’s plan is a concept paper that explains the competitive need to build an unmanned force, not a precise blueprint on how to get there. It describes obstacles, including the need for international cooperation among U.S. allies to provide the know-how to build this hybrid naval force.
Lawmakers this week indicated that they would pose an additional challenge by closely watching how the Navy begins to implement its vision.
Rep. Robert Wittman, R-VA, the top Republican on the subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, made it clear that there is little appetite for lengthy and expensive procurement contracts that don’t get anywhere.
“Let’s fail early then move on,” Wittman said. Stefany seemed to agree, and cited the mantra of the AEGIS weapons system when he said the Navy’s plan for building up its unmanned capacity is to “build a little, test a little, learn a lot.”