Friday, September 27, 2019

The Sea Hunter Myth

The unmanned Sea Hunter vessel has already assumed near mythic proportions in the minds of many observers – and, apparently, the Navy! - despite that fact that it has yet to demonstrate any actual performance whatsoever and despite the complete absence of any performance specifications and despite the lack of a specific mission and Concept of Operations (CONOPS).

Even by US military standards, the excitement surrounding Sea Hunter, a prototype unmanned submarine tracking vessel developed at a cost of $20m by US defence research agency DARPA, is startling. Variously described as “a highly autonomous unmanned ship that could revolutionise US maritime operations” and “a new vision of naval surface warfare”, the drone was developed through the agency’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ASW ACTUV) programme. (1)


‘revolutionize US maritime operations’
‘a new vision of naval surface warfare’

That’s some lofty praise and expectations for a vessel that has not yet demonstrated any capability, whatsoever.

Sea Hunter

Here are some of the claims being made for Sea Hunter:

-It has been described by the Navy as being capable of finding and following submarines indefinitely using a high frequency, fixed sonar array. (1)

-It has been suggested by observers as being capable of conducting complete, independent ASW operations.

-It has been suggested by commentators as being capable of conducting AAW/ASW wide area surveillance while, apparently, being undectectable.

“The drone boats could also scout well ahead of manned ships for the enemy… and get close to particularly high value assets, such as aircraft carriers or amphibious assault ships.” (1)

-It has been suggested as a replacement for capital ships.

“ACTUV represents a new vision of naval surface warfare that trades small numbers of very capable, high-value assets for large numbers of commoditized, simpler platforms that are more capable in the aggregate,” said Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO). (1)

-It has been suggested as a mine countermeasures vessel and was tested in the role by DARPA. (1)

-It has been suggested as a harbor protection vessel.

-It has been suggested as a logistics supply vessel.

-It is planned to be used as an intel collection vessel.

… plans already in the pipeline include equipping drones with anti-submarine weapons and additional sensor suites to gather visual and electronic intelligence. (1)

As a refresher, the $20M Sea Hunter is a moderate size vessel (Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vessel, MDUSV) of 132 ft in length, capable of 27 kts, and was designed by DARPA to operate unmanned and autonomously.  The vessel appears to be non-stealthy in the extreme.  It is designed to be modular with regard to payloads.  DARPA indicates the vessel can operate for 90 days with a range of 10,000 miles. (1)

DARPA has developed Sea Hunter, a prototype unmanned submarine tracking vessel with the ability to autonomously patrol the seas for months on end at a fraction of current costs. (1)

DARPA tested the Sea Hunter with the Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS – a tortured, contrived acronym if ever there was one!) which is, essentially, a parasail carrying a sensor or communications package aloft via a cabled parasail. (1)

Operating costs are reported to be in the range of $15,000-$20,000 per day versus $700,000 per day for a destroyer. (1)

Sea Hunter was transferred from DARPA to the Office Of Naval Research (ONR) in early 2018.

So, there’s the background.  Now how about some analysis?

ASW – The small size and low power of whatever sonar array the vessel has suggests a very limited sonar range.  Also, the vessel has no helo which, on this blog, nearly every commentator has stated is mandatory for successful ASW (ComNavOps, of course, does not believe helos are mandatory for successful ASW – useful, yes; mandatory, no).  Despite this, the Navy claims that the vessel, with a low powered, small sonar array and no helo, will be able to find and track submarines indefinitely despite that fact that our very best full size, high powered sonars on Burke destroyers, with the benefit of human interpretation of data and anticipation of submarine behavior and tactics and using helos to help search and prosecute, cannot reliably detect and track submarines.  Does it really make sense to you that a $20M vessel with a small, low powered, unmanned sonar can outperform our Burkes?  If that was really true and if that was what testing has already demonstrated (and I’m unaware of any realistic testing having been performed) wouldn’t the Navy be engaged in a crash program to replace the Burke sonars with these small, low powered sonars that require no manning and yet are many times more effective?  And yet, they aren’t.  What does that tell you?

Some commenters have suggested a swarm of Sea Hunters sweeping ahead of a surface group and clearing the path of submarines.  Again, the very limited range of the sonar fit precludes any useful ASW sweep capability unless several dozen such vessels were employed and who is going to control and perform data analysis on several dozen vessels simultaneously?

Surveillance/Intel/Scouting – The small size and limited power again limit the range of whatever sensors might be placed on the vessel.  More importantly, the vessel is non-stealthy, in the extreme, and would have a lifespan of minutes in a forward battle area.  How anyone thinks this vessel will sail ahead of a surface group and survive long enough to collect any useful surveillance data is beyond me.  Remember that to achieve any useful sensor range will require active radar which also pinpoints the craft’s location to the enemy.

Survivability – The vessel has no self-defense capability and is non-stealthy in the extreme.  It’s lifespan will be measured in minutes in a battle zone.

Control – Unless these vessels are going to operate 100% autonomously – and no one believes we’re at that level of software capability – then someone has to control the vessels and analyze any data they collect.  Given that most of the proffered applications call for many vessels, likely dozens, operating together, who is going to control the vessels and how will they do it?  It will require continuous, wide area, two-way communications which doesn’t exactly fit with combat EMCON requirements.

Logistics – The use of a Sea Hunter as a logistics transport vessel is nearly pointless.  It has no significant cargo capacity and no means to load/unload whatever it might carry.

Capital Ship Replacement – This is stupidity on a platter.  Our surface fleet is already too small and steadily shrinking and we would replace what we have with these combat useless vessels?  Claiming that the Sea Hunter is more capable in the aggregate is analogous to claiming that infantrymen are more capable in the aggregate than an armored unit of tanks.  Infantry have their uses but they are not more capable than armored units.

Patrol – This is the one application that is potentially useful.  Such a vessel might well make an efficient and effective harbor patrol craft.  Of course, that’s a peripheral task rather than combat but it would still be useful if the vessel’s cost can be contained.


It is worth bearing in mind that for most of these suggested uses a MH-60R/S helo which costs about the same as Sea Hunter (helo costs are $28M-$42M depending on type and source) has much more mobility, speed, capability, and survivability than a Sea Hunter.  In fact, the only redeeming quality of the Sea Hunter compared to a helo is the endurance and even that is only valid under certain defined circumstances.  The helo’s endurance is unlimited in the sense that it is carried by a host ship and so can travel as far and as long as the host ship.  The helos endurance becomes a factor only when it’s in the air – for example, dropping sonobuoys.  In comparison, given the Sea Hunter’s utter lack of survivability, its endurance is likely to be a non-factor!  All things considered for the helo vs. Sea Hunter, it almost seems as if we’re reinventing the wheel just to be able to make it unmanned.

Any reasonable analysis of Sea Hunter capability reveals the vessel to be very heavy on hype and very light on any useful function.  As I’ve harped on so many times, this is what a CONOPS does – it lays out, in detail, how a vessel will be used.  Sea Hunter has no CONOPS and, therefore, it can do anything and everything, or so its proponents would have us believe.

Sea Hunter, as it currently exists, is a hyped-up myth, nothing more.  That’s not to say that it isn’t worthwhile as a research program.  By all means, let’s continue to explore autonomy and unmanned vessels.  However, the Navy has already committed to a fleet of these vessels (specifically, their small and medium displacement unmanned vessels) with absolutely no CONOPS and no idea of how to use them or what their capabilities are (hint to the Navy: I’ve just told you what their capabilities are; they don’t have any!).  Does this sound eerily familiar?  It should.  It’s exactly what the Navy did with the LCS and you see how that turned out.  Remember all the projected uses for the LCS?  Why it was going to revolutionize the Navy and win wars single-handed.  The reality is that they have no use, are a drain on resources, can’t seem to sail two days with a breakdown, require more manning than the Perrys they replace, and have no place in combat.  It appears as if the Navy is now committed to building the unmanned version of the LCS.  Well, no one ever accused the Navy of being able to learn lessons!


(1)Naval Technology website, “Sea Hunter: inside the US Navy’s autonomous submarine tracking vessel”, 3-May-2018,


  1. Sea Hunter's current sonar is only meant for the "continuous trail" CONOPS. It doesn't have broad applicability to other ASW missions. It is not capable of independent search, other than perhaps in shallow waters. This is consistent with it being a DARPA research project, not a fully functional system.

    It needs a towed array and low-frequency, active, variable depth sonar. There are a few out there that should be small enough and light enough. Work may be necessary to make the towed sensors autonomously deployable and recoverable. This combination should give it a useful detection range, especially when operated in groups.

    It could also be armed with light weight torpedoes, to engage targets of opportunity.

    It would need to operate under the task force's air defense umbrella to have a chance at survival, but ultimately it is semi-disposable.

    Modest ECM capabilities could be added, in the form of chaff, IR flares and inflatable targets. Sea Hunter may not be stealthy, but it is a relatively small vessel. Head- or stern-on, especially, it should have a low RCS compared to manned vessels. This could give it a decent chance against a small number of missiles.

    I see operating three or four in conjunction with a manned vessel. They station-keep in a curved line at the limit of the DDG or FFG's line-of-sight communication range, covering a swath of a 100-120 miles in front of the warship. The warship operates as the command node and helicopter platform to pounce on contacts.

    With a small radar, they could even act as missile detection tripwires for the manned ship.

    1. You kind of just repeated the claims in the post with no actual detail about how the vessel would be effectively used.

      You also just doubled or more the cost with all the add-ons!

      Okay, let's dig in a bit.

      Let's start with the 'continuous trail'. Do you really believe that small, low powered sonar, not capable of independent search, can continuously trail a sub when packs of helos and our best ASW equipped destroyers cannot? Does that really seem credible to you? Do you really believe that? If DARPA had a sonar with that kind of magic capability, wouldn't they be installing it on Burkes as fast as they can?

      "station-keep in a curved line at the limit of the DDG or FFG's line-of-sight communication range, covering a swath of a 100-120 miles in front of the warship."

      A small, low powered active sonar (essentially, a sonobuoy!) has a detection range of 1-5 miles. Thus, your vision of covering a swath of 100-120 miles is not true. They could cover a swath of perhaps 30 miles depending on how many craft you use.

      You could use just passive arrays to achieve a 100-120 mile swath but then you'll be accepting missed targets from passive alone. All subs, and SSKs in particular, are very difficult to hear using passive only and in shallower water passive is almost useless. That's why shallow water ASW is moving to active sonar.

      Now, how are these craft going to conduct their sonar detections? Will they be doing it purely electronically, on board, with no human interaction or interpretation? If so, then you've got to accept even more missed targets. Currently, no automated sonar is as good as a human operated and interpreted sonar. On the other hand, if you continuously transmit the sonar data back to the control vessel, then you're continuously broadcasting electromagnetic signals and increasing your risk of being detected. Also, your control vessel needs 3-4 sonar control stations added along with extra crew and berthing (oops! more operating costs for the command vessel).

      You also mention a small radar. The same situation applies. If you're going to continuously broadcast 3-4 radar signals then you're absolutely pinpointing your own location for the enemy. Is that really what you're calling for?

      Do you see what I mean about vague generalities? Like the Navy, you're calling for generalities without having thought through the specifics of a CONOPS. Once you start thinking about the details, the attractiveness of the vessel rapidly decreases.

      So, with all this in mind, would you like to refine your concept of operations and/or costs?

    2. It's really difficult to imagine how this would actually operate successfully in a combat environment.

      Maybe it could be carried on board an actual attack sub and then placed behind a contact to follow it after the manned sub has found that enemy submarine.

      But the practically of that strains credulity.

      How would the Sea Hunter be carried by the attack sub?

      Externally? Not without making the sub tragically noisy.

      Internally? It's pretty big, but even if you somehow could get it inside another submarine, how would you deploy it without sounding like an underwater marching band in the process?

    3. A ship the size of Sea Hunter can carry a sonar far more powerful than a sonobuoy or helicopter dipping sonar.

      Instead, something like LFATS,

      They claim a greater than 30 mile detection range. If you assume only half that for "assured" detection, it's still a 30 mile swath per ship. Four ships operating in an arc is 100-120 miles, depending on the degree of overlap.

      Line of sight communications back to the command ship could be detected, but can be very directional and low power, so any detecting platform will have to be very close and along the path between command ship and Sea Hunter.

      A radar could also be detected, but again could be low power, reducing enemy detection range. Its use is optional, depending on emcon.

      Staring optical and infrared passive sensors could be used instead, though they are weather dependent.

      The fact of the matter is, all ship-based anti-missile systems are heavily depended on radars and active communications between ships. You can't get around this, you just have to manage it.

      You would have to add additional operator consoles on the command ship, but that's not a huge cost.

    4. "They claim a greater than 30 mile detection range."

      Do I really need to recite the nearly endless list of manufacturer's claims that have proven entirely or largely unfounded?

      Their claim is likely based on calculations rather than experimental results. It is certainly based on the best possible scenario of a very large target with no acoustic countermeasures.

      I'm unaware of any other sonar in the world that can actually achieve 30+ mile active sonar detections. Could they have developed something that is totally revolutionary? Sure, it's possible and has about the same likelihood as me winning the lottery five days in a row.

      I'm sorry but like all manufacturer's claims, theirs is not true under any actual operating scenario. If you choose to believe it then you're choosing to ignore all of history. There has never been a manufacturer's claim in the history of weapon systems development that turned out to be true. The best that can be hoped for is a fraction of the claim after many years of field use and steady improvements.

      I take it you're familiar with EMALS, LCS, Zumwalt AGS, AAG, weapon elevators, F-35, KC-46 tanker, the anti-torpedo torpedo, and every other system ever developed? But, yeah, this will probably be the one that fully meets the manufacturer's claim.

      "assume only half that for "assured" detection"


    5. "A radar could also be detected, but again could be low power, reducing enemy detection range. "

      A small, low power radar isn't going to detect wave skimming, anti-ship cruise missiles which is, presumably, what you're looking for in this concept? You need a large, high power radar. That's why ships use massive radar arrays with massive power requirements instead of small, low power radars!

    6. I agree that the manufacturers claims of detection range are probably best case. That is why I used half that (15 miles) as a guess at a realistic detection range. A third of that still results in a 20 mile swath (r=10 miles) for a single ship.

      If it's less than that, then an option is to increase the ratio of Sea Hunters to command ships to regain the 100-120 mile swath.

      Yes, there is no such thing as assured detection. It's all a game of probabilities. How about the term "high confidence" instead?

      On radars, it doesn't take a huge radar to detect a missile that's within the horizon. The Navy uses SPQ-9B for that now. The large radars are needed to detect aircraft and missiles further out.

    7. "Staring optical and infrared passive sensors could be used instead, though they are weather dependent."

      This is a potentially viable mode of operation although the sensor coverage would be iffy for a variety of reasons, some of which you noted. Still, it would provide a non-radiating means of forward scouting. Whether the iffy sensor coverage is worth the development of an entire unmanned vessel class is a debatable question.

    8. "You would have to add additional operator consoles on the command ship, but that's not a huge cost."

      Au contraire! The Burkes, for example, have NO expansion room which is why the AMDR that's being installed is only a portion of the size the Navy needs/wants.

      The cost extends beyond the mere cost of the additional control consoles. The extra operator crew, extra maintenance techs, additional berthing, more food storage, more water storage, greater galley capacity, etc. all add to the costs. You'd also need to install additional comm gear and antennae for transmit/receive. Hmm … more power, added topside weight, decreased stability … The point is that adding equipment to a ship is not the simple exercise that people think. It can be done but it's far more costly and impactful than people realize. If we were to go this route, I'd think it would worth considering a dedicated control ship that could also service the unmanned vessels - a mothership, essentially. Of course, now you're adding the cost of a new ship and crew to the cheap, unmanned vessel cost that the Navy talks about. ALL the costs have to be considered.

    9. "On radars, it doesn't take a huge radar to detect a missile that's within the horizon. The Navy uses SPQ-9B for that now."

      The Navy believes the -9B is inadequate and wanted to replace it with the dual band radar but the costs proved too great. They're stuck with the -9B due to cost, not because it's fully capable.

      Have you worked through the benefits of an extended detection range of an incoming anti-ship cruise missile? They're negligible. You gain an extra perhaps 80 sec against a high subsonic missile (much less against a supersonic missile). That might buy you one extra counter-missile shot. Hey, that's great. No one would turn down extra seconds or an extra shot. However, the flip side of that is that you'll have been literally broadcasting your position all along. And, if you turn the radar power down to the point that it can't be detected by the enemy then you certainly won't be spotting incoming missiles, either! So, is it worth an extra 80 sec or less in exchange for letting the enemy know exactly where you are? That's the age-old dilemma in sensor utilization.

    10. The point of the post and my comments is to encourage people to think through the CONOPS and consider ALL the factors, good and bad. Then, decide how the asset can be EFFECTIVELY used, if it can.

      So far, you've considered (or written about) only the theoretical good aspects. Now, incorporate the bad and come up with a viable CONOPS.

    11. It may not fit very well in a Burke. However the FFG should/could have room for it.

      Still, adding a few operating consoles to a control ship is the easy part of this. Developing an unmanned ship that can reliably operate a VDS, in semi-autonomous cooperation with a command ship, in combat and peacetime conditions, is the hard part.

      I think there are significant benefits, though, compared to how we currently do ASW with manned warships and helicopters.

    12. "I think there are significant benefits, though, compared to how we currently do ASW with manned warships and helicopters."

      Okay, now describe them. What are the benefits? What are the drawbacks? How do you balance them to achieve an effective result? What do we gain by using less capable vessels? Setting aside non-existent, Terminator type AI, how do we practically control them on a real-time basis?

      Assume a 1-5 mile detection range because that's what real world, larger, higher powered sonars achieve.

      I'm open to accepting these IF someone can come up with a viable CONOPS. I encourage you, take a shot at being that someone!

      Hey, if we had hundreds/thousands of these things sweeping the water around our group they'd probably be effective (although they'd be giving away our own position - just like radar can be detected far beyond its own detection range, so too, sonar is detected far beyond its own detection range). The challenge is to get down to an effective CONOPS involving just a few/several vessels and make it beneficial enough to more than offset the drawbacks.

      Take a shot at it. I'm genuinely curious to see what you can come up with.

    13. Anon2, you also haven't addressed how these Sea Hunters are an overall improvement over helos with sonobuoys and dipping sonar which we already have.

      We're talking about creating a billion dollar unmanned vessel program to duplicate an already existing capability.

    14. On what do you base your 1-5 mile detection range assumption?

      If a small VDS active sonar has a 1-5 mile detection range. What about an even smaller dipping sonar? Sonobouy? What about a larger ship-mounted VDS?

    15. "On what do you base your 1-5 mile detection range assumption?"

      As you might imagine, actual detection range data for sonars is almost non-existent in the public domain. That said, I've done extensive surveys of what is available and determined that is the most likely range value. It's affected by a host of variables, of course. For example, the Navy believes that anechoic tiles will allow submarines to evade even active sonar to a significant extent - having the effect of drastically shortening active sonar detection ranges (recall the sonar manufacturer's detection range? undoubtedly without anechoic tiles!). Now all subs have such tiles.

      In short, I've evaluated available literature and data, factored in technology (you're familiar with bubble impregnated coatings?), and come up with a reasonable, evidence based estimate. I might be right or I might be wrong but my guess is not a guess, it's an informed estimate.

      Your range is based on a manufacurer's claim - undoubtedly extremely optimistic and unrealistic. So, you can either accept my research, backed up by all the information I've presented in this blog on a variety of topics and conclude that my efforts are to be believed or you can duplicate my research efforts on your own and come to your own conclusion (which, if you do, will almost certainly match mine!).

      The only better source of range data is sonar techs in the Navy and they aren't talking.

      That good enough for you?

  2. Look at the upside, DARPA built one, If SeaHunter was a regular Navy program, we'd have 25 of them by now.

    1. Unfortunately, the Navy has already committed to an ongoing multi-year buy without having seen any demonstration of capability or having any CONOPS. They're repeating the LCS mistakes.

  3. To level set, The 2nd prototype is based on Sea Hunter. MUSV is a new set of requirements and almost has to be a different ship based on the requirements. Yes, the not defining specific payloads strikes me as a major issue. Saying it will carry ISO containers without much detail on where best to put them and what they might carry is not smart and smells of the half baked ideas that limit rather than enable the LCS. I have read a few places the Sea Hunter's scalable fixed sonar is to track a sub continuously at 1km distance. To me that sounds impossible to maintain at such short range. Looking at the TRAPS Variable Depth Sonar, this might be an option on the new ships as it looks like it could operate hands free. I have also read that TALONS was deployed and recovered hands free in test although hands were on deck. I'm skeptical, but if you could get both of these trailing off the back of something it might be a solid start. Also, I am pretty sure Sea Hunter is built with a composite hull so even if its not angular it got a reduced signature. Its why I think that at least for the MUSV they are looking for a yacht based hull rather than something like a fast supply vessel from the offshore business.

  4. When was the last time USN did any realistic testing?

    Is SeaHunter still awesome after going thru a storm? Operates awesomely thru high sea states? Operates like a champ after some electronics go down? Fixes itself to perfection or degrades gracefully? Magically finds every sub? Never gets spoofed? Impossible to be found by the enemy?

    I mean, if this is true (sarc) we should just junk the entire USN and just replace everything with SeaHunters! LOL!

    Now, am I against USN development of SEAHUNTER and other systems? Hell no BUT let's not repeat the same damn mistakes ever freaking time,USN! Buy a few them, maybe modify an LCS to be the mothership and beat the crap out of them, test them against a REAL SSN AND a REAL SSK, have some fun using them as decoys or advanced scouts, etc but please let's not order 100s before finishing testing and coming up with some REAL WORLD use for them, please......

    1. "please let's not order 100s before finishing testing "

      Too late! The Navy is already committed to a large scale purchase. LCS 2.0!

    2. I wish Vegas had betting odds and over-unders on weapon systems....I would put a few shekels down that USN ends of with more useless crap in under 4 years....

  5. Again it is "running before we can walk". Prove a simple (and much cheaper)autonomous powered sonar buoy can work and in all sea stated and work up from that. We didn't go from propeller to super sonic in one move. End of rant.
    As discussed in the previous post the air force seems to have seen the light.

    1. If we want to prove this 'continuous trail' ASW capability, lets let the vessel establish contact on a sub and then turn the sub loose to evade any way it wants and see what happens. I'm betting we'll lose contact in a matter of minutes but, hey, at least we'll know what the Sea Hunter can or cannot do.

    2. They are actually doing that. It is also called TRAPS (DARPA TRAPS not the TRAPS container VDS on the market) Transformational Reliable Acoustic Path System. It is also being developed by Leidos. The sonar sits on the ocean floor and communicates up to a buoy.

      The other prototype Leidos is working on, called Submarine Hold at Risk [SHARK], has an unmanned underwater vehicle as a mobile platform to track enemy submarines. Both are part of DARPA's Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting [DASH] program.

    3. As soon as someone tracks a real sub, let me know. Until then, it's all developmental theory. Do I need to recite the litany of failed developmental projects?

    4. Have they really tested it against a real SSN and a Capt that was allowed to do whatever it takes to evade it? I doubt it until we get confirmation from USN how the testing was done....

  6. For me, I see its best potential as a forward ASW picket. No multimission, no weapons, just a hull, a tail, and a way to pass the info when it detects somthing. Perhaps a downscaled SURTASS? Of course in downscaling and losing capability, would it be worth the cost? Im not knowledgeable of capabilities or costs, so I have no idea, but clearly it would have to be cheap enough to be fairly "disposable" and built in significant numbers.
    As ive thought about this, I certainly see the problem here in having a platform, and then trying to find a use for it. Having the CONOP first, having a sensor or weapon, and then sorting out how to get it to sea is the proper approach. Experimentation with autonomy is fine, but calling it a multi-mission capable game changer is a bit premature.

    1. "pass the info when it detects something"

      Okay, that implies you're doing passive detection only. It also implies that you're doing completely autonomous detection and just alerting the control ship 'when it detects something'. As you know, we use humans to interpret sonar data, with computer assistance of course, but the human is the one that can take fuzzy data (which all ASW data is!) and apply intuition, hunches, knowledge of sub tactics and sort out the myriad false contacts to find the real one. So, we're either going to get flooded with false contact reports from the Sea Hunter or we're going to get contacts that are absolutely solid and definite and probably way too late. So, where's the real benefit?

      We could create billions of dollars of these vessels or we could use existing helos to drop sonobuoys. Why are we creating a mega-billion dollar program to create a mobile sonobuoy when we already have them in the form of helos?

      This sure seems like technology for its own sake.

    2. Actually, what you are describing is what they are focusing on AI to do. It will change from the computer saying "take a look at this, what do you think?" to "Hey just letting you know what I found, shoot?"

    3. I think the range, time on station, and ability to be "out front" and potentially expendable (relatively) are the high points of the autonomous concept. A ship based sonar, even downsized, should far outperform sonobouys and dipping sonar. Plus, it could be sent places where there are no ships with helos. The only thing it would give up is speed vs a helo.
      And id like to think that we can write software that can discriminate enough to avoid massive amounts of false alarms. My other cure is to loosely "team" them so that they verify each other's contacts, and thatd also help in the firming of a contact before passing the info on. That could all be written into the programming. Now maybe the sonars should be manned elsewhere 24/7. I envisioned only a burst transmission notifying someone of a contact, rather than a constant link, which we all agree is likely to fail, or be inhibited in a conflict. Thats another debate, but I think potential lies in them doing their thing, basically unsupervised, until they find a contact, and then letting people take over.

    4. "And id like to think that we can write software that can discriminate enough to avoid massive amounts of false alarms."

      You'll recall the Navy's urgent (UON) program to develop the ship anti-torpedo torpedo defense system? It worked great in lab and controlled tests but when the installed it on carriers it generated so many false alarms that they cancelled the project. So, yeah, I'd like to believe we could write software that could filter out false contacts but ...

    5. Filtering out false alarms is the literal hardest part of most automation systems. If the end user is always clearing out false alarms, bet your bottom dollar the end user clears out the real alarm without even thinking about it.

      While I'm sure anything sonar-related is not available for discussion in open sources, I'm curious to see where the SWAP-C for this system works out compared to a sonobouy. I'm also curious to see how big of a USV would be required to mount an exisiting bow and towed sonar system.

  7. I like JJ idea, sounds like a mobile, reusable sonobuoy BUT one, that's not what it's being sold as and second, is it what USN needs? Interesting idea to try out but again, that's not what's being sold by USN. SH will never be as fast as helicopter dropping buoys, might be able to stick around a little longer on station but it does seem like technology looking for a question to answer....again, buying a few of them to play with,OK, buying the entire program now, STUPID!

  8. What if we built USV's in small batches every 5 years, incorporating new technology in each new design. We'd have two manufacturers develop super-duper, hyper-realistic computer models of their designs. We would then select the best one, the selected manufacturer would then hit the Print button and in a few days we would have our small batch of ships. Being simple in design, cheap, and unmanned, they would be expendable and easy to mass produce in wartime.

    In all seriousness, I see nothing wrong with unmanned ships so long as they are inexpensive, their technology is mature, and we have a good concept to operate them. Sea Hunter is a prototype to test equipment and flesh out the concept. It's not ready for primetime.

    Concerning the logistics role, there is a lot of interest in unmanned cargo ships for civilian use. With the right design and technology, they could be used to supplies to the fleet. Maybe the ship's crew has to board the unmanned ship to facilitate the transfer of supplies, but that's a detail to be worked out. But, such a ship would free up crews and ships for other purposes.

    Unmanned ships are a promising technology that should be developed further.

    1. "and we have a good concept to operate them."

      Which is utterly lacking at the moment!

      "Sea Hunter is a prototype to test equipment and flesh out the concept. It's not ready for primetime. "

      And yet the Navy has already committed to a multi-year buy. This is the LCS again.

      "lot of interest in unmanned cargo ships"

      Nothing wrong with that except that a medium displacement vessel is not the answer. The number one feature of a cargo ship is LOTS of cargo space! This is a simple one - just buy an actual cargo ship and give it an automated navigation system! Of course, there's the issue of rules of the road and crashing into things. The Navy can't seem to sail WITH humans so one would expect worse results without. On the other hand, perhaps it would be better without untrained, tired, humans!

      " Maybe the ship's crew has to board the unmanned ship to facilitate the transfer of supplies"

      We're not talking about a few boxes you can load/unload by hand. We're talking about pallets and crates. We're talking about cranes. The ship has to be designed from the outset for that work. Also, safe cargo movement is not something that any sailor who happens to be available can do. It's a specialty skill. The Navy ships won't have those people. A LOT of thought would have to go into this. That said, it's an idea worth pursuing and developing.

      "Unmanned ships are a promising technology that should be developed further."

      Agree completely. However, as usual, the Navy is leaping blind into the technology with an entire MDUSV program already committed. No development. No demonstration of capability. No CONOPS. No sanity.

    2. I haven't seen anything about a multi-year buy, so that is news to me. My understanding is that the Navy is buying some unmanned ships of various displacements for testing.

      As for an unmanned cargo ship, for starters, I was thinking something in the 8,000 to 10,000 ton range with a flight deck. Then work up to larger ships, if possible. These ships could also be used to transport supplies between ports as well. The Drive reported earlier this year that Sea Hunter successfully navigated from to San Diego to Pearl Harbor and back on its own.

      Most ships have a helicopter or two that can sling load supplies from one ship to another. Supplies would be prepackaged to enable them to be sling loaded with equipment to transport them to the flight deck. The MH-60 reportedly can sling load 6,000 pounds. Sling loading cargo isn't a specialized skill.

    3. "I haven't seen anything about a multi-year buy, so that is news to me."

      It's been widely reported for quite some time now. I believe the first budgeting has already occurred but I'm not 100% certain about that.

      "sling load"

      That's not a viable means to load/unload a cargo ship. It would take forever! Sling loads are fine for a few loads but not unloading a cargo ship.

      "equipment to transport them to the flight deck. "

      Wow! A fully automated cargo ship that could move cargo from holds to deck spots? That would be an amazing assembly of technology and cost many hundreds of millions of dollars.

      "The MH-60 reportedly can sling load 6,000 pounds. "

      A small cargo ship of 10,000 DWT (probably not what you meant but more meaningful) would require 3,333 round trips by sling loaded helo to unload. NO ONE unloads cargo ships by helo.

    4. From the September 18th CRS report:

      Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV: The MUSV program began in FY2019. On July 16, 2019, the Navy announced that it had released a request for proposals (RFP) for development of the MUSV. Reponses to the RFP are due by September 30,2019. The Navy plans to conduct a full and open competition, and award a contract for a single MUSV prototype in the first quarter of FY2020.The RFP contains options for the procurement of additional MUSVs.Although it is not shown in Figure 4, the Navy wants to award a contract for the second MUSV in FY2023."

    5. Uhh … There's more than that planned!

      From the May 2019 "Haven't Got A Clue" post,

      "After the 2020 budget, the Navy plans to buy two LUSVs a year until 2024, for a total of about $2.7 billion. The Navy is making plans to buy 232 unmanned platforms of different sizes and configurations over the next several years."

      This is all part of the small/med/large unmanned fleet that the Navy has already committed to despite no proof of performance.

    6. "Wow! A fully automated cargo ship that could move cargo from holds to deck spots?"

      No. Automated in that the ship can navigate on it's own. (Though in practice, there would be some human oversight.)

      I'm sure a Navy supply ship has pallet trucks, forklifts, and elevators to move supplies around on a ship. A crew would gather what the need, like fresh food, consumables, and spare parts and pack them in baskets or cargo nets. Using onboard equipment, the supplies would be transported to the flight deck for transfer by helicopter. Supplies could also be prepackaged. In no way am I suggesting offloading thousands of tons by helicopter.

      Conversely, a line could be set up between the two ships and supplies transferred in a basket. Here's a story from Foxtrot Alpha on that.

    7. "These ships could also be used to transport supplies between ports"

      This statement led me to believe you were suggesting automated port-to-port cargo ships with full unloading at the destination port.

      If you're talking only about at-sea transfers of a few loose supplies, sure, I guess that could work but that limited a transfer would be unusual and almost pointless. What kind of very limited supplies would justify an at-sea transfer?

      When the Navy does UNREP, it's significant quantities, takes quite a while, and is a risky evolution - not to be undertaken for just a few supplies.

      "Sling loading cargo isn't a specialized skill. "

      Absolutely it is! We've all seen the spectacular videos of loads nose diving into the dirt. Anytime you're working under a hovering helo, you'd better be specially trained!

  9. If this can be built by the US it could be built by Russia or China, so, if this thing is as effective as the USN says, why are they continuing to plan a new class of SSBNs?

  10. This looks to me like the classic definition of a boat--a hole in the water, into which you throw money.

  11. Maybe this is all part of an elaborate ruse.

    We are fooling the Chinese to copy this, while we keep our actual navy hidden...ready to jump out of the shadows and pounce at the right time.

  12. Thought I'd try my hand at a CONOPS for a Sea Hunter type ship. Use them as part of ASW convoy escort. We don't have enough ships for that mission set.

    The ASW screen should consist of two parts, the Sea Hunters and the main ASW commander(s).

    The Sea Hunters should be unmanned and unarmed. They are essentially persistent mobile sonobouys capable of sprinting and drifting with minimal instruction from the screen. They would operate as the outer rim. As they need to be numerous and they will have a high attrition rate they must cost no more than 50 million dollars.

    The screen commander vessel provides the human element of the detection and the weapons for prosecution. These weapons must include ASROC and helo launched torpedoes. The helos also provide rapid investigation of distant contacts.

    While you hope to get as many kills as you can, the main purpose of this convoy is to keep the other side honest. Historically convoy escort is all about protection rather than destruction.

    1. Okay, let's explore your CONOPS a bit … First, a couple of questions:

      Are you talking passive sonar, active, or both?

      Are you talking human interpretation of the sonar data in real time, thus requiring continuous, large bandwidth comms for each unmanned vessel plus a control station and operators for each, or are you talking purely automated detection and accepting the significantly poorer performance?

    2. I would say just passive to keep the cost down, but that probably won't cut it.

    3. Okay, so you have a screen of USVs using passive sonar, all of them broadcasting continuously over a very high bandwidth comm to a manned control vessel for data analysis and interpretation.

      The key question is, do you feel that the passive-only sonar benefits outweigh the risk of giving away your own location due to the constant comm traffic?

      If you're using line-of-sight comm, that only puts the screen vessels about 12-15 miles out in front. In terms of modern submarine torpedo and cruise missile range, that's not a lot. So, potentially, you're broadcasting your location while only gaining a 12-15 mile extension of your detection range that would you get from a regular frigate/destroyer. Again, is that worth it to you? If it is, you've got a CONOPS. If it isn't, you need to re-evaluate.

    4. This is along my line of thought... But having to rely on onboard processing of contacts before communicating back through a burst. So its either constant comms or relying on somthing that may flood you in false contacts. A choice of the lesser evils....

    5. "Yep reevaluate."

      If you weren't satisfied with what you had, ask yourself what the concept needs to be satisfactory. Does it need a beyond line of sight comm so that the USVs can be 20-50 miles out in front? Does it require active sonar on the USVs? Does it require lots more USVs to flood the area?

      In other words, forget about what's available or achievable and just identify what you think is needed to make the CONOPS viable. Once you have that, then look for equipment or methods to make it happen. If you can find the missing elements then you're in business. If the missing elements don't exist then you've identified what your R&D department should be working on.

      So, what's missing? What do you need to make your CONOPS viable?


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