Grey Havoc

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Oct 9, 2009
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A 2005 NSWC/Dahlgren Division paper on issues affecting the arming of UXVs: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a436214.pdf

We realize that the weaponizing of UXVs begins to take us into largely uncharted waters. This document is an attempt to examine as many of the issues surrounding this area as possible, but it is realized that we may have missed some. Because of this, the author invites readers to return comments on the presented material, and on issues that may not have been covered. The purpose is to gather thoughts from as many sources as possible to ensure a robust treatment of this important area.


The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division’s Coastal Systems Station initiated a special study in 2000 to examine the potential of unmanned systems to augment United States (U.S.) Naval Forces in the future. In June 2001, Summey, et al,1 published a report on this study effort. The report found that “…there is a coherent overall framework for the development, deployment, and operation of unmanned systems on a broad basis across the major naval mission areas.” The study found that, “Standardization and modularity across all unmanned systems will be the key to affordability.” While touching on the issue of arming unmanned systems, the document did not go into the topic in detail.

A Panel for the Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC) conducted a study during June 2002 – March 2003, producing a draft report on roles for unmanned vehicles (UXVs).2 The panel arrived at the following conclusions: (1) the combat potential for the use of UXVs is virtually unlimited; (2) quantitative analysis and metrics are lacking; (3) Naval programs are not coordinated or focused; (4) lessons learned are not institutionalized; and (5) cultural and policy obstacles exist. One of the recommendations in this report was to, “focus on technology obstacles for the next generation of unmanned vehicles.” Again, while touching on the topic of arming UXVs, this second document did not go into detail, except in noting their unlimited potential for combat, and noting the fact that there are cultural and policy obstacles to their use.

Regarding the cultural issues, it was stated that the U.S. political and civilian culture expects a minimum number of U.S. casualties, arguing for the use of UXVs in combat by substituting them for people on the battlefield. Diametrically opposed to this is the policy issue regarding the fear of autonomous operations being too dangerous or “going out of control,” causing unintended casualties or collateral damage. This has resulted in a general reluctance to arm UXVs. This reluctance has decreased to some degree with the recent successful use of the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) armed with Hellfire missiles in both Afghanistan and Yemen.

The remainder of this document examines the issues of arming UXVs in some detail. The issues fall into two categories: (1) those associated with the arming of any vehicle, manned or unmanned, and (2) those that are peculiar to UXVs. In some instances the issues of the first category are concerns that are somewhat different between manned systems and UXVs. The use of UXVs has been stated to be desirable in missions that are “dirty (dealing with hazardous materials), dull (long dwell or duration), or dangerous (extreme exposure to hostile action).” These mission requirements translate to technology requirements for increased platform endurance, increased platform survivability, and/or lower platform cost. The dirty mission set implies low cost disposable (generally small) UXV systems, focusing on simple Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS)-based solutions.

1. Summey, D. C.; Rodriguez, R. R.; DeMartino, D. P.; Portman Jr., H. P.; and Moritz, E., Naval Readiness Augmentation: A Concept for Unmanned Systems in the Navy, CSS TR-01/04, June 2001, Coastal Systems Station, Panama City, FL.

2. Bachkosky, J. M.; Begley, G. A.; Rumpf, R. L.; Eash, J. J.; Fratarangelo, P. A.; Hubbard, J. E.; Katz, D. J.; Mooney, J. B.; Morrish, A. A.; Sinnett, J. M.; Smith, J. A.; Toscano, M.; Zimet, E.; Roles of Unmanned Vehicles, NRAC 03-1 (Draft), March 2003, NRAC, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (RDA), Washington, D. C.