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By Scott R. Gourley

24 Sep 07. Last week’s formal release of the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) Master Plan provides an architecture for how unmanned vehicles will be used to exploit and expand the naval battlespace while supporting joint force operations.

“The nation is faced, currently and for the foreseeable future, with a multitude of military challenges that are unlike any seen in recent history,” the plan notes. “The enemy is diverse, not easily recognizable, and operates in atypical ways. These assymetic [sic] threats have the ability to do great harm to our maritime forces and infrastructure, and the Navy must have the ability to address and defeat them in support of national Defense objectives, while continuing to execute its traditional roles.”

It continues, “Unmanned systems have the potential, and in some cases the demonstrated ability, to reduce risk to manned forces, to provide the force multiplication necessary to accomplish our missions, to perform tasks which manned vehicles cannot, and to do so in a way that is affordable to the nation.”

Based on this foundation, the USV Master Plan, which was chartered by the Program Executive Officer for Littoral and Mine Warfare, is designed to provide the primary guide for Navy USV development in order to effectively meet the Navy’s strategic planning and Fleet objectives and the force transformation goals of the Department of Defense (DoD) to the year 2020.

Based on workshops conducted at the Naval War College (in late 2004) and the Fleet ASW Training Center (in early 2006), coupled with major analysis, synthesis, and development efforts being conducted by a USV Master Plan Core Team, seven high-priority USV missions were identified that support the Joint Capability Areas. In priority order, those missions include Mine Countermeasures (MCM), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Maritime Security (MS), Surface Warfare (SUW), Special Operations Forces (SOF) Support, Electronic Warfare (EW), and Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO) Support.

To accomplish these missions, the USV Master Plan calls for four “classes” of USVs: one “non-standard” class; and three “standard” classes.

The smallest, called “X-Class” will be a non-standard class of systems capable of supporting SOF requirements and MIO missions. It will provide a “low-end” Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) capability to support manned operations and is launched from small manned craft such as the 11m Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) or the Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC).

The first of the standard class USVs, called “Harbor Class,” will be based on the Navy’s standard 7 meter rigid inflatable boat (RIB). Capable of being supported by the majority of the U.S. Naval fleet since it will use the standard 7m RIB interfaces, the “Harbor Class” will be focused on the MS Mission, with a robust ISR capability and a mix of lethal and non-lethal armament.

The next standard class, called “Snorkeler Class,” will be an approximately 7 meter semi-submersible vehicle (SSV) that will support MCM towing (search) missions, ASW (Maritime Shield) and will also be capable of supporting special missions that can take advantage of its relatively stealthy profile.

The largest of the standard USV classes will be designated “Fleet Class.” It will will be a purpose-built USV, consistent with the handling equipment and weight limitations of the current 11 meter RIB. According to the plan, variants of the “Fleet Class” USVs will support MCM Sweep, Protected Passage ASW, and “high-end” Surface Warfare missions.

The plan involves three timeframes: “Near-term” (present to 5 years); “Intermediate- or mid-term (5 to ten years from present); and “Far-term” (more than 10 years from present).

The USV Master Plan then dissects each of the seven USV high priority mission areas and explains how the USVs will contribute to mis

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