The world first multi-domain autonomous, unmanned vehicle mission coordination looks to upend traditional military mission command

 

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During
this year’s Annual Navy Technology Exercise (ANTX) in Rhode Island’s
Narragansett Bay, a three-day Naval exercise conducted by Lockheed Martin and Ocean Aero upended the traditional U.S. Navy
chain of command, deferring administrative mission control from Naval and Air
Force commanders to a series of coordinating autonomous vehicles. During the
display, an unmanned surface vehicle coordinated the launch of an unmanned aerial
vehicle from an unmanned submersible — the world’s first multi-domain,
autonomous unmanned vehicle chain.
 

The
exercise began with instructions from a ground control station to Ocean Aero’s Submaran, a wind- and
solar-powered unmanned surface vehicle (USV) that can be outfitted with a
variety of sensors for different surveillance applications.

 

 

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Ocean Aero’s Submaran.

 

The
Submaran, in turn, relayed command instructions to Lockheed Martin’s submerged Marlin MK2
autonomous underwater vehicle (UAV) via underwater acoustic communications. The
10-ft. battery-powered UAV is equipped with sophisticated sensors and robust
autonomy and is able to cruise for 24 hours, descend up to 1,000 feet and manage
a maximum payload of up to 250 lbs. The Marlin cruised below the surface of the
bay to a designated launch site as instructed.

 

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Lockheed Martin’s Marlin MK2.

 

Once
surfaced, the Marlin followed supplementary instructions to ready its payload,
a canister containing a Lockheed Martin Vector
Hawk
, a lightweight, multipurpose autonomous drone (UAV) capable of
surveillance and delivering a scalable payload up to 9 miles (line of sight). The
Vector Hawk features a field-reconfigurable open architecture to enable rapid
technology and payload integration. The UAV can be field-reconfigured to fit
multiple mission environments, including fixed-wing, vertical takeoff and
landing (VTOL), and tilt-rotor enabling VTOL with transition to fixed wing
flight.  Once on its predetermined flight
path, the autonomous Vector Hawk maintains communication and data linkage using
adaptable high-bandwidth software-defined radio, mesh networking (including 3G,
2G, and LTE cellular), and employs over-the-air reconfiguration. The system
also incorporates fail-safes to ensure that it can safely return to the user or
auto-land when communication or power failures occur.

 

 

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Lockheed Martin’s Vector Hawk.

 

Meanwhile,
the Marlin and UAV transmitted electro-optical (EO) and infrared (IR) video to
the Submaran, which relayed images to the ground station. The Submaran provided
additional surface reconnaissance and surveillance for the mission.

 

Doug
Prince of Lockheed Martin business development, unmanned underwater vehicles,
commented on the significance of the milestone; “This is the first time that
three autonomous vehicles in three different domains [air, surface, and
underwater] have worked together to execute a mission.”

 

The operational
status of each vehicle was communicated to and monitored by the ground station,
allowing operators full situational awareness and control over each asset.

 

“This collaborative demonstration brings us
another step forward to realizing a future where different unmanned systems
work in cooperative operations to support first responders, military operations,
and commercial users,” said Prince.

 

Future
civilian and military applications for the coordinating of autonomous vehicles
is endless as it helps shift operational focus from commanding and coordinating
vehicles to conducting the mission at hand.

Sources: Ars
Technica
, NewAtlas