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Research Questions

  1. What USVs are available in the current unmanned surface vehicle (USV) market or in development, what are the missions of those USVs, their capabilities, their attributes, and the countries in which they are being developed?
  2. In what ways could the U.S. Navy employ USVs?
  3. To what degree are USVs suitable for supporting U.S. Navy missions and functions?

This report assesses in what ways and to what degree unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) are suitable for supporting U.S. Navy missions and functions. It briefly characterizes the current and emerging USV marketplaces to provide a baseline for near-term capabilities, describes USV concepts of employment to support diverse U.S. Navy missions and functions, and evaluates these concepts of employment to identify specific missions and functions for which they are highly suitable. USVs offer several particular strengths relative to other platforms, including the ability to interact both above and below the waterline, enabling them to serve as critical nodes for cross-domain networks. They also have potentially longer endurance, larger payloads, and higher power outputs than comparably sized unmanned air or undersea vehicles. Additionally, their greater risk tolerance compared with manned systems makes them desirable platforms for overcoming adversaries' anti-access and area-denial measures. These strengths make USVs particularly suitable for missions such as characterizing the physical environment, observation and collection regarding adversaries, mine warfare, military deception/information operations/electronic warfare, defense against small boats, testing and training, search and rescue, and the support of other unmanned vehicles. However, USVs need advanced autonomy and assured communications to complete complex missions, as well as any missions in complex environments. Autonomous seakeeping and maritime traffic avoidance are USV-specific capabilities that likely need to be developed with U.S. Navy involvement. Also, optional manning and payload modularity can enhance the desirability of USV programs.

Key Findings

Unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) offer several particular strengths relative to other platforms.

  • USVs have the ability to interact both above and below the waterline.
  • USVs have potentially longer endurance, larger payloads, and higher power outputs than comparably sized unmanned air or undersea vehicles.
  • USVs have a greater risk tolerance compared with manned systems.

USVs competitive strengths make them particularly suitable for certain U.S. Navy missions.

  • USVs' greater risk tolerance makes them desirable platforms for overcoming adversaries' anti-access and area-denial measures.
  • USVs' ability to interact both above and below the waterline enables them to serve as critical nodes for cross-domain networks.
  • USVs are also suited for missions such as characterizing the physical environment, observation and collection regarding adversaries, mine warfare, military deception/information operations/electronic warfare, defense against small boats, testing and training, search and rescue, and the support of other unmanned vehicles.

Recommendations

  • Advance the autonomy and communications of USVs to ensure they can complete complex missions and perform in complex environments.
  • Use optional manning and payload modularity to enhance the desirability of USV programs.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    The USV Marketplace Is Vigorous but Narrow

  • Chapter Three

    Developing and Evaluating USV Concepts of Employment

  • Chapter Four

    USVs Are Highly Suitable for Diverse Naval Missions

  • Chapter Five

    Capitalizing on the Potential of USVs: Key Enablers

  • Chapter Six

    Program Sponsorship and Acquisition Management Challenges

  • Chapter Seven

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    Concepts of Employment for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance

  • Appendix B

    Concepts of Employment for Antisubmarine Warfare

  • Appendix C

    Concepts of Employment for Mine Warfare

  • Appendix D

    Concept of Employment for a USV Training Platform

  • Appendix E

    Concept of Employment for a USV Test Platform

  • Appendix F

    Concept of Employment for Armed Escort and to Counter Fast Attack Craft

This research was sponsored by the Assessment Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV N81) and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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