Unmanned Systems Experience Growing Pains

February 11, 2014
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The new platforms of choice for many warfighters are generating familiar issues.

Unmanned systems for reconnaissance, surveillance and warfighting have grown so quickly in popularity that they are spawning a familiar list of challenges that must be met sooner rather than later. Many of these issues have arisen with other military technologies that became popular quickly, and planners found that fixing these problems was significantly more difficult the deeper the technologies were embedded in everyday military operations.

Rear Adm. Robert Hennegan, USN (Ret.), former commander of the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command, told a Wednesday panel audience at West 2014 in San Diego that unmanned systems of all types in each domain will be an integral part of the high-end war fight. As a result, the military risks unintentionally creating information stovepipes among these unmanned systems.

Citing the need for “COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] for robots,” Adm. Hennegan called for a common architecture with common software and possibly common sensors. If a common display can be developed for unmanned systems, it would be viewable by personnel in each of the services without requiring any specialized training.

While this approach applies to all manner of unmanned systems, Adm. Hennegan emphasized its importance in his area of specialty, undersea operations. “We must maintain dominance in the undersea,” he said. “It’s a slow game with small pieces of information hidden in large data streams.”


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