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The Navy Adopts Drones, Slowly

As the U.S. seeks to increase its numbers adopting drones, China’s increasing assertiveness further stretches resources.

Unmanned capabilities are still in the future and will be selective in nature, despite the Navy testing vehicles from seabed to space.

“There are battle spaces where it may not be necessary to contest air and maritime superiority one for one,” said Adm. Samuel Paparo, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander.

As platforms are tested and concepts developed, the Navy must expand unmanned platforms to save money and lives.

“Don't risk a human being in a dangerous environment where a machine can do it better, faster and cheaper,” he told the audience of the WEST 2024 conference on Wednesday in San Diego.

New unmanned platform adoption is a slow process for the service and during fiscal year 2024 few are expected to enter its inventory, according to a Navy budget report. The force has said it has a plan to integrate more drone capabilities, but these are in development.



















Adm. Paparo hinted that the most valuable capabilities may remain classified but stressed the difficult balance between keeping innovation secret and deterring China’s aggression by publicizing capabilities.

“We'll be executing many experiments quietly, for the simple reason is that we don't want to expose it to an adversary that would emplace a counter to that capability,” he told the audience.

Adm. Paparo sees the People’s Republic of China (PRC) committed to destabilizing the rules-based order and U.S. interests around the world and, at the current level of deterrence, it will continue to pursue its interests aggressively.

“The PRC is undaunted, and their ambitions presently manifest themselves in their excessive maritime claims,” Adm. Paparo said. He placed Taiwan at the center of its interests as its ambitions over the democratic island grow.

The Asian power will continue to enlarge its navy, as the U.S. seeks present asymmetric threats to that buildup.

Adm. Paparo
Don't risk a human being in a dangerous environment where a machine can do it better, faster and cheaper.
Adm. Samuel Paparo
U.S. Pacific Fleet commander

Beijing’s response includes its maritime militia, an irregular force that assists its naval operations. These sometimes attack foreign vessels at sea to harass traffic on sea lanes or waters of interest.

“They're looking to scare and intimidate their neighbors in order to claim these excessive claims by the logic of power,” Adm. Paparo said.

Despite those malicious intentions, the U.S. Navy will seek ways to diminish or eliminate the PRC’s intimidation.

“The United States stands ready to support our allies in accordance with their sovereign will: sometimes that's with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and sometimes that offer is there to execute joint patrols.” Adm. Paparo said.

AFCEA co-hosts WEST 2024 with the U.S. Naval Institute. The yearly event will continue until Thursday. You can join the conversation on this event on X, formerly Twitter, using the hashtag #WEST2024