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Integration of Autonomous Unmanned Systems in Theater Undersea Warfare Mission Planning



OBJECTIVE: Develop a Mission Planning toolset that integrates autonomous unmanned systems (AUSs) with conventional manned platforms for the Theater Undersea Warfare (TUSW) mission planning set. 

DESCRIPTION: Summary: AUSs are increasingly used in Navy operational warfare domains to pace the threat. In the antisubmarine warfare (ASW) domain, AUSs such as drones, ocean gliders, and fixed sensor arrays are under development. However, the tools to integrate these AUSs with conventional manned platforms are unavailable. The Navy seeks to enable both AUSs and legacy-manned platforms in coordinated TUSW mission planning. The envisioned solution is an operator toolset enabling comprehensive TUSW Mission Planning that optimizes total force mission performance (effectiveness) over available unmanned and manned systems. Narrative: AUSs, combined with advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are rapidly becoming the disruptive technology of the early 21st-century. Such systems have varying levels of autonomy, as described in the Autonomy Levels for Unmanned Systems (ALFUS) Framework developed by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Some recent commercial examples are self-driving cars (Google, Tesla), factory automation (ABB, Fanuc), and package-delivery drones (Amazon). Leveraging advances in AI, along with an explosion of small, low-cost sensors, and exponential improvements to computer processing power and storage, capable AUSs are now being deployed for military use. Applications range from Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) to conducting strikes on terrorist cells. For example, Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) in a range of sizes and shapes have begun to see specialized applications in the maritime environment, such as the Navy’s Littoral Battlespace Sensing-Glides (LBS-G) for making oceanographic measurements. In the undersea warfare (USW) domain, several independent efforts are developing AUSs for ASW missions, such as the Office of Naval Research’s Persistent Littoral Undersea Surveillance (PLUS) program. One particular application of interest is DARPA’s ASW Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) known as Sea Hunter. It is an unmanned surface vessel designed to track and trail quiet diesel-electric submarines post-detection from the surface for several months. These AUSs are of great benefit to the Navy; however, the Theater Undersea Warfare Commander (TUSWC) has currently no way of incorporating AUSs into TUSW Mission Planning. Tactical Decision Aids (TDAs) for operational planning need to incorporate AUS operations into Theater Undersea Warfare (TUSW) Mission Planning. The TUSWC performs mission planning by determining asset allocation, developing mission plans, monitoring execution, assessing performance, and performing dynamic re-planning as required. The envisioned solution is an operator toolset enabling comprehensive TUSW Mission Planning that optimizes total force mission performance (effectiveness) over available unmanned and manned systems. Since there are competing missions other than USW, the planning toolset must take into account resource constraints, including emergent needs that occur during mission execution. Additionally, the adversary gets a vote, introducing risk considerations that must be balanced against the rewards, such as potential costs versus benefits of mission success. The TUSWC optimizes mission performance by allocating assets to appropriately exploit the battlespace, developing plan options (also called Courses of Action [COAs]) to optimize total force effectiveness, monitoring execution with in-situ measurements, continuously assessing actual performance as the mission progresses, and dynamically refining and updating the plan as the situation evolves. The desired toolset should take the operator through this process in an automated manner, balancing the employment of AUSs and manned platforms based on their capabilities and mission needs. One significant benefit of this toolset is to minimize “busy work” for Theater watchstanders, thereby maximizing the “think time” available to focus on the tactical and operational problems at hand. Recent advances in ML from big-data such as deep learning and predictive analytics have the potential to achieve this goal—for example, by providing appropriate information or tailoring queries for information at every stage of the mission. It is worth noting that current planning processes at the Theater watch floor use manual techniques and stove-piped systems that are extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive. Innovative technology will reduce staffing by optimizing autonomous unmanned system employment in conjunction with manned platforms, and maximizing asset information exchanges during mission planning and execution. The Phase II effort will likely require secure access. NAVSEA will process the DD254 to support the contractor for personnel and facility certification for secure access. The Phase I effort will not require access to classified information. If need be, data of the same level of complexity as secured data will be provided to support Phase I work. Additionally, the prototype toolset shall meet information assurance specifications for classification security. Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. Owned and Operated with no Foreign Influence as defined by DOD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Security Service (DSS). The selected contractor and/or subcontractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances, in order to perform on advanced phases of this contract as set forth by DSS and NAVSEA in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advance phases of this contract. 

PHASE I: Develop a concept for a Mission Planning toolset that includes legacy and AUS systems for TUSW missions. The concept will demonstrate the feasibility of meeting TUSW mission planning. It will establish feasibility by sample testing, modeling and simulation, and analysis. The Phase I Option, if awarded, will include the initial design specifications and capabilities description to build a prototype in Phase II. Develop a Phase II plan. 

PHASE II: Based on the Phase I results and the Phase II Statement of Work (SOW), produce and deliver a prototype Mission Planning toolset that includes conventional manned systems and AUS systems. The prototype will be evaluated to ensure that it supports optimal mission planning to take into account both the new AUS capabilities and the existing legacy manned platforms, and the Navy information assurance specifications for classification security. It will demonstrate it meets the Navy needs discussed in the description. System performance will be demonstrated through prototype installation and testing with the prime integrator. The Government will provide the demonstration facility. Prepare a Phase III development plan to transition the technology for Navy and potential commercial use. It is probable that the work under this effort will be classified under Phase II (see Description section for details). 

PHASE III: Support the Navy in transitioning the technology to Navy use. Further refine and develop the prototype for evaluation and testing in an operationally relevant environment (e.g., the USW-DSS system platform on the Theater watch floor, using the PEO-IWS 5 Program Office software transition process). Support the Navy for test and validation in accordance with the appropriate peer review and test and evaluation required to support capability integration and fielding. The technology will have private sector commercial potential for any system that requires the ability to optimize planning across both manned and unmanned delivery systems such as package delivery that could be performed using either drones or traditional truck delivery methods. 


1: Huang, Hu-Min et al. "Autonomy Levels for Unmanned Systems (ALFUS) Framework." Ad Hoc Autonomy Levels for Unmanned Systems Working Group, National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication 1011-1-2.0, October 2008.

2:  Grant, Ronald. "Up in the Air: Drones will change war – and more." Special Report: Robots – Military uses. The Economist, 29 March 2014


4:  Fabey, Michael. "Navy Will Expand Undersea Drone Operations." Defense News, 27 December, 2016.

5:  CDRSalamander. "ASW: abundans cautela non nocet." U.S. Naval Institute Blog. 07 September 2016.

6:  Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, "The Future Navy", U.S. Naval Institute document, 17 May 2017.

KEYWORDS: Autonomy Levels For Unmanned Systems; Autonomous Unmanned System; Theater Undersea Warfare; Mission Planning; Unmanned Underwater Vehicles; Antisubmarine Warfare 


Abel Ortiz 

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Chidambar Ganesh 

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