July 19, 2016
A Navy patrol boat converted to operate unmanned as part of an Office of Naval Research experiment in autonomous “swarms.”
William Roper is “buying time” for the rest of the Pentagon, he told us in a rare interview. HisStrategic Capabilities Office finds near-term but game-changing upgrades for existing weapons systems, preserving American advantage over rapidly advancing adversaries while DARPA and Defense Department labs develop a new generation of breakthroughs.Yesterday, we wrote about Roper’s overall approach. Today, we get into specific technologies.
Unmanned vehicles are a great example of how Roper’s near-term approach diverges from the longer-term Third Offset Strategy. DARPA, famed for long-range longshots, recently commissioned the world’s largest unmanned ship, the 130-foot Sea Hunter (aka ACTUV). Meanwhile, however, the Strategic Capabilities Office is working with the Navy on “autonomy kits” that can be installed aboard a conventional vessel to let it operate unmanned. After the unmanned mission, the kit can be taken back off, if desired, to let the boat operate with a human crew again.
SCO is working on various Navy small craft, one of the largest being the new Mark VI patrol boat. They’re not optimized for unmanned operations — they have a lot of hardware to support a human crew, for example — but, said Roper, “we start with the ships we have.”