Navy plans underwater drones for inhospitable ports

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

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 capabilities."

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 operations.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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