The United States plans to develop unmanned underwater
reconnaissance vehicles to prepare for the prospect that Middle East states
would deny naval base access to U.S. ships.
Officials said the U.S. Navy plans to complete development and deploy
such unmanned underwater vehicles by 2020 that would compensate for the
denial of naval bases in the Middle East. They said these vehicles would be
employed in operations
against enemy underwater and surface vessels.
Adm. William Fallon, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, told the recent Annapolis Naval History Symposium that
"the real, immediate change is the
proliferation of unmanned vehicles, whether they be air, surface or
subsurface. I believe this will truly revolutionize a lot of navy
Vice Adm. Cutler Dawson, the navy's deputy chief of naval
operations, said. "We look at bases and access, which has recently been
greatly influenced by denial of
access to Turkey," Middle East Newsline reported. "We look at potential systems and we try to input the
performance that we expect from those systems, and finally, we look at joint
and coalition [operations]."
In 2003, Turkey rejected a U.S. appeal to allow American troops to move
through that country to open a second front against Iraq. The U.S. Navy and
private shippers were kept waiting for weeks outside of Turkish ports while
Ankara debated whether to allow soldier and equipment in the country.
One lesson of the Turkish experience was that the navy would require a
capability to deploy in areas of the Middle East and Persian Gulf without
the guarantee of port access.
Officials said a new concept and technology
would be required for such a strategy to quickly operate in areas where port
access is denied or unavailable. The concept was already demonstrated in the
Arab League state of Djibouti in 2003.
In his address to the Annapolis Naval History Symposium, Dawson said the
sea basing concept of the navy would have three elements: access, speed and
reduced footprint. He said the concept was demonstrated during the
deployment of the 2nd Fleet flagship, the USS Mount Whitney, which provided
sea-based support to marines in Djibouti at the Horn of Africa.
"Why did we do that?" Dawson asked. "Because access was not assured, and
even when we did have access, it was so immature that the investment to get
ashore took time and money."
The unmanned underwater reconnaissance vehicles would be developed to
provide a deep-strike capability for the U.S. Navy. Officials said the navy
sought the capability to distribute unmanned systems along key shipping
routes in an effort to deny access to enemy ships or rapidly destroy them.
"We look at the most likely combat operations and possible rules of
engagement," Dawson said. "We look at the development of personnel and ask,
'What will they need?'"
Fallon said a new
family of combat ships would include high-speed, shallow draft, multimission
modular ships designed to ensure sea control in the littorals. He cited two
new high-speed vessels, the Joint Venture and Swift, large catamarans that
could travel at speeds of 50 knots and deployed in counter-insurgency