On the surface: ONR SCOUT showcases the capabilities of unmanned surface vehicles


In an effort to increase the range and detection of various unmanned surface vessels, the Office of Naval Research-sponsored SCOUT initiative recently hosted a unique demonstration event off Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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The event showcased the capability of seven different USVs, ranging in size from 5 to 36 feet, demonstrating their ability to contribute to the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S) mission areas of Rapid Distributed Logistics and fighter without a maritime patrol aircraft. The Joint Prototyping and Experimentation and Maritime (JPEM) program performed the demonstration on water from the maritime experiment vessel STILETTO.

The demonstration was watched by stakeholders across multiple commands, including U.S. Fleet Forces Command, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, Unmanned Task Force, Navy Special Warfare Command, PEO Unmanned and Small Combatants, and Naval Surface Warfare Center Headquarters and Carderock.

ONR SCOUT is an ongoing multi-agency experimentation campaign to identify alternative ways to bring unmanned technologies to combat problems, operationalize them and scale them. SCOUT is committed to rapidly integrating non-traditional, off-the-shelf, government-developed and/or government-sponsored technologies into the fleet.

“SCOUT is changing the way we solve warfighter problems,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Lorin Selby. “We are rapidly conducting experiments and tests that will aid our JIATF-S partners and ultimately help protect the United States from illicit drug trafficking.”

During the Virginia Beach event, the SCOUT and JPEM teams carried out technical and operational evaluations of the USVs. They captured data from each vehicle, looking at different payload capacities, range, speed and endurance to better inform the fleet; the science and technology and acquisition communities of the current state of these USVs; and which ones may be best suited to the mission of interest.

Teams examined USV capabilities and characteristics that align with JIATF-S problem sets – ultimately stopping illicit drug trafficking. With this data, the team will be able to provide a list of options for various USVs to help leaders decide which is the best platform for a mission.

According to Dennis Danko, JPEM Program Manager, “This was a valuable opportunity for USV developers to experience an ocean environment. Operating from STILETTO provided developers, as well as observers, with insight into the operational challenges associated with working in an open ocean environment, where conditions can change from day to day.

John Phillips, who is from NSWC Carderock and was the ONR SCOUT Manager for the Virginia Beach event, said: “The ONR SCOUT USV Sprint in the Norfolk Fleet Concentration Area provided an opportunity to show the capability from small USVs, aligned with warfighter issues, to a contingent of naval actors.The collaboration has been incredible, and we are optimistic that the data collected will help determine the best unmanned systems to perform various Navy-specific missions.

Now, the logistics team is gearing up for a larger event that will bring together several logistics-focused unmanned industry partners to test their capabilities in an operational environment. SCOUT will partner with the U.S. Fourth Fleet next month in a live demonstration in the JIATF-S area of ​​operations near Key West, Florida.

“We have been planning for this event for several months and look forward to seeing the various ships and capabilities respond to missions in an operational environment,” said Chris Heagney, a Naval Air Systems Command Fleet/Force Advisor supporting Fourth Fleet and ONR Global. “This event will bring everyone together to focus on adding new platforms and options to the Navy’s portfolio.”

The JIATF-S team remains optimistic as SCOUT efforts continue to help them in their daily mission.

“Every day we are faced with multiple suspicious vessels and illicit trafficking near and in the area of ​​operations,” said Lt. Cmdr. Duane Zitta, JIATF-S Chief of Operational Demonstration and Experimentation. “We need alternative capabilities and options that will help locate and detect suspicious activity and stop illegal movement into the United States.”


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