Unmanned Vehicles for U.S. Naval Forces: Background and Issues for Congress
Unmanned Vehicles for U.S. Naval Forces:
Background and Issues for Congress
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Unmanned vehicles (UVs) are viewed as a key element of the effort to transform
U.S. military forces. The Department of the Navy may eventually acquire every major
kind of UV. Navy and Marine Corps UV programs raise several potential issues for
Congress. This report will be updated as events warrant.
Unmanned vehicles (UVs) are viewed as a key component of U.S. defense
transformation.1 Perhaps uniquely among the military departments, the Department of the
Navy (DON), which includes the Navy and Marine Corps, may eventually acquire every
major kind of UV, including unmanned air systems (UASs) — which include unmanned
aerial vehicles (UAVs) and armed UAVs known as unmanned combat air vehicles, or
UCAVs — unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs)
and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).
Section 220 of the FY2001 defense authorization act (H.R. 4205/P.L. 106-398 of
October 30, 2000) states, “It shall be a goal of the Armed Forces to achieve the fielding
of unmanned, remotely controlled technology such that — (1) by 2010, one-third of the
aircraft in the operational deep strike force aircraft fleet are unmanned; and (2) by 2015,
one-third of the operational ground combat vehicles are unmanned.” A 2005 report by
the Naval Studies Board (NSB) recommended that the Navy and Marine Corps should
accelerate the introduction of UAVs, and UUVs, UGVs; the report made several
additional recommendations concerning DON UV efforts.2
1 For more on defense transformation and naval transformation, see CRS Report RL32238,
Defense Transformation: Background and Oversight Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke,
and CRS Report RS20851, Naval Transformation: Background and Issues for Congress, by
2 National Research Council, Naval Studies Board, Autonomous Vehicles In Support Of Naval
Background: Key Navy And Marine Corps UV Programs3
Navy UAVs and UCAVs 4. The Navy Unmanned Combat Air System (N-
UCAS) is the Navy’s program for acquiring a UAS that can operate from aircraft carriers
and penetrate enemy defenses to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance operations or
suppress enemy air defenses (SEAD). The Navy plans to demonstrate the aircraft’s
suitability for carrier-based operations in 2013, and have it enter service in 2021 as a
penetrating surveillance and reconnaissance system. The N-UCAS program was initiated
as the UCAV-N program in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency (DARPA). In December 2002, the Department of Defense (DOD) decided to
merge the Air Force and Navy UCAV programs into a Joint Unmanned Combat Air
System (J-UCAS) program. In October 2005, management of J-UCAS was transferred
from DARPA, which had managed it since October 2003, to a joint Air Force-Navy office
led by the Air Force. In February 2006, DOD announced that it was restructuring the J-
UCAS program into a Navy-oriented UCAV program. The effort became a Navy
program once again at the start of FY2007. Details about the J-UCAS program are being5
The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UAS (BAMS UAS) is the Navy’s
program for acquiring an unmanned, persistent, multi-sensor (radar, electro-
optical/infrared, and electronic support measures) maritime ISR system that can cover any
part of the world. BAMS UAS is to work with the Navy’s planned P-8 Multi-Mission
Aircraft (or MMA — the Navy’s planned successor to the P-3 Orion maritime patrol
aircraft). Competitors for BAMS UAS include variants of the existing Global Hawk and
Predator UAVs, and possibly an unmanned version of the Gulfstream 550. The Navy’s
FY2008-FY2013 aircraft procurement plan calls for procuring the first four BAMS UASs
in FY2011, and four more each in FY2012 and FY2013. The first BAMSs are expected6
to enter service in 2013. In support of the BAMS UAS program, the Navy, under the
Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD) program, has procured two Global
Hawks under an Air Force production contract for use as test and demonstration assets
Operations. Washington, The National Academies Press, 2005. 256 pp.
3 Unless otherwise stated, information in this section is taken from Navy and marine Corps point
papers provided to CRS between October and December 2006.
4 For more on UAVs, see CRS Report RL31872, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Background and
Issues for Congress, by Harlan Geer and Christopher Bolkcom.
5 Jefferson Morris, “Northrop Grumman Expecting UCAS-N Downselect in May/June ‘07,”
Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, Oct. 19, 2006: 1-2; John M. Doyle, “NAVAIR UAV Chief
Say New Strategy Needed For Joint Development,” Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, Apr. 19,
Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, Mar. 23, 2006; John M. Doyle, “If Navy Successful, AF
Could Revisit J-UCAS Program,” Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, Mar. 16, 2006.
6 See also Jefferson Morris, “Navy Warns Industry BAMS Must Stay On Cost, Schedule,”
Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, May 18, 2006; “Navy Details Huge Unmanned Aerial
Vehicle Program,” Congress Daily, May 18, 2006; Jason Ma, “Navy Expects BAMS UAV
Solicitation In FY-07, Contract Late In FY-07,” Inside the Navy, Feb. 6, 2006.
in developing a concept of operations and tactics, training, and procedures for persistent
Fire Scout — a small, unmanned helicopter — is the Navy’s program for acquiring
a Vertical Takeoff and Landing UAV (VTUAV) for use aboard Littoral Combat Ships
(LCSs)7 as an ISR and communications-relay platform. Five Fire Scouts were procured
in FY2006 and four were procured in FY2007. The Navy’s FY2008-FY2013 aircraft
procurement plan calls for procuring three in FY2008, five in FY2009, six each in
FY2010 and FY2011, nine in FY2012, and 10 in FY2013. A planned improvement for
Fire Scout is the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) mine
countermeasures payload. The Tactical Control System (TCS), a part of the Fire Scout
system, is being evaluated by the Navy as a possible control system for BAMS UAS (see
above) and STUAS (see below).
The Small Tactical UAS (STUAS) is a Navy-Marine Corps program(with additional
Air Force and Special Operations Command [USSOCOM] participation in developing
program requirements) initiated in FY2008 to develop a small UAV for persistent ISR
operations. For the Navy, STUAS is to support ship and small-unit commanders involved
in the Navy’s participation in what the Administration refers to as the global war on
terrorism (GWOT).8 The Navy and Marine Corps want to have STUAS enter service in
Marine Corps UAVs and UCAVs. The Marine Corps organizes its UAS
acquisition efforts into three tiers based on the level of the Marine Corps commander
supported. Tier I UASs support small-unit (platoon and company) commanders. The
current Tier I UAS is the Dragon Eye. In September 2006, the Marine Corps selected the
Raven B — a UAS also operated by the Army and the USSOCOM — as the Marine
Corps’ follow-on Tier I UAS. The Marine Corps as of November 2006 operated more
than 100 Tier I systems.
Tier II UASs support battalion, Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), regimental, and
division commanders. The Marine Corps wants the STUAS (see discussion above) to be
its new Tier II system. Between now and STUAS’ planned entry into service in FY2010,
the Marine Corps is filling its need for Tier II UASs in Iraq through ISR service contracts.
Boeing/Insitu is the current contractor; future contracts will be competed.
Tier III UASs support Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) and Joint Task Force
(JTF) commanders. The current Tier III UAS is the Pioneer, which entered service with
the Navy and Marine Corps in 1986 and is now in sustainment status. The Marine Corps
is changing the Pioneers’ ground control system (GCS) to a Replacement GCS based on
the Army’s “One System” GCS, providing a common GCS capability with the Army.
The Marine Corps plans to ultimately use the One System GCS across all three UAS
tiers. The Vertical UAS (VUAS) is the Marine Corps’ planned follow-on Tier III UAS.
The Marine Corps is currently developing requirements documentation and conducting
7 For more on the LCS program, see CRS Report RL33741, Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)
Program: Oversight Issues and Options for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
8 For more on the Navy’s role in the GWOT, see CRS Report RS22373, Navy Role in Global War
on Terrorism (GWOT) -- Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.
an analysis of alternatives (AOA) for the program, and is evaluating options for sustaining
its current Tier III capability until VUAS is fielded.
Navy USVs. The Navy reportedly was to complete a new USV master plan by the
end of 2006.9 The Remote Minehunting System (RMS) is a high-endurance, semi-
submersible vehicle that tows a submerged mine-detection and -classification sensor suite.
The Navy originally envisioned procuring at least 12 systems for use on at least 12 DDG-
51s. Additional RMSs are now to be deployed from LCSs. The Office of Naval Research
(ONR) reportedly is developing two USV prototypes as future options for a common USV
or family of USVs.10 The Navy’s Spartan Scout USV program uses an unmanned 7-
meter (23-foot) or 11-meter (36-foot) boat capable of semi-autonomous operations that
can be launched from surface ship or shore. The craft can be equipped with modular
payload packages for missions such as mine warfare and antisubmarine warfare (ASW).
The Navy accelerated deployment of Spartan; the first system was deployed in October11
Navy UUVs And AUVs. The Navy’s 2005 UUV master plan sets forth nine high-
priority missions for Navy UUVs: (1) ISR, (2) mine countermeasures (MCM), (3) anti-
submarine warfare (ASW), (4) inspection/identification, (5) oceanography, (6)
communication/ navigation network nodes (CN3), (7) payload delivery, (8) information
operations, and (9) time-critical strike operations. The plan stresses the need for
commonality, modularity, and open-architecture designs for Navy UUVs, organizes Navy
UUVs into four broad categories:
!Man-portabable UUVs with diameters of 3 to 9 inches and weights of
shallow-water MCM, and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD);
!Lightweight vehicles with 12.75-inch diameters and weights of up to
500 pounds (the same as lightweight Navy torpedoes), for use in harbor
ISR, special oceanography, mobile CN3, network attack, and MCM area
!Heavyweight vehicles with 21-inch diameters and weights up to 3,000
pounds (the same as heavyweight Navy torpedoes), for use in tactical
ISR, oceanography, MCM, clandestine reconnaissance, and decoys; and
!Large vehicles with diameters of 36 to 72 inches and weights of up to
20,000 pounds, for use in persistent ISR, ASW, long-range
oceanography, mine warfare, special operations, EOD, and time-critical
9 Michael Bruno, “Unmanned Surface Vehicle Master Plan Due This Year,” Aerospace Daily &
Defense Report, Aug. 28, 2006: 2.
10 Jason Ma, “ONR Developing Two ‘Unmanned Sea Surface Vehicle’ Prototypes,” Inside the
Navy, July 26, 2004.
11 For more on Spartan and other USVs, see Richard R. Burgess, “A New Generation,” Seapower,
July 2006: 26-29.
12 Christopher P. Cavas, “U.S. Navy Refines UUV Roles, Missions,” Defense News, Jan. 31,
The Navy is using its single Long-term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS)
(which includes two UUVs) and its single Advanced Development UUV (which includes
1 vehicle) to support the development of the Mission-Reconfigurable UUV System
(MRUUVS). The MRUUVS is a 21-inch-diameter, submarine-launched and -recovered
UUV being developed for conducting mine countermeasures and ISR missions in areas
denied to inaccessible to other Navy systems. The Navy wants the MRUUVS program
to start in FY2009, and the first MRUUVs to enter service in 2016. The Large-
Displacement, Mission-Reconfigurable UUV System (LD-MRUUVS) is a large,
clandestine UUV for launching from submarines, LCSs, and amphibious ships that is to
be used for conducting multiple missions, including mine countermeasures (including
neutralization), delivery of payloads for special operations forces, persistent ISR, and
limited ASW in areas denied or inaccessible to other Navy systems. The Navy is
currently developing requirements for the system, and the development effort will
leverage technology developed for the 21-inch MRUUVS.
The Surface Mine Countermeasure (SMCM) UUV System for use on older
Avenger (MCM-1) class mine countermeasures ships and LCSs. The Navy plans to
develop and field a few Increment 1 and Increment 2 versions of the SMCM UUV as user
operational evaluation systems (UEOS), and then produce an Increment 3 version as a
heavyweight-class UUV for use aboard LCSs, with the system entering service in
FY2011. The Battlespace Preparation Autonomous Undersea Vehicle (BPUAV) is a
21-inch-diameter AUV with a side-looking sonar for mine detection for use aboard LCSs
as a complement to other LCS mine countermeasures systems. The first BPAUV is to be
delivered in December 2006 for integration into the first LCS.
The Semi-Autonomous Hydrographic Reconnaissance Vehicle (SAHRV),
sponsored by USSOCOM, is a small, man-portable vehicle to be used by Navy Special
Warfare (NSW) forces (i.e., Navy SEALs) for hydrographic reconnaissance and mapping
operations in very shallow waters. The Navy states that SAHRV “has completed all
phases of the acquisition cycle to the point of fielding and sustaining 17 operational units.
As such, the SAHRV has achieved Full Operational Capability (FOC) defined by
USSOCOM and continues to fulfill a critical requirements capability of NSW forces in
the War on Terror.” The Navy plans to improve the system’s capabilities over time.13
Marine Corps UGVs. The Armored Breaching Vehicle (ABV), currently
undergoing developmental testing and field user test and evaluation, is an unmanned,
tracked combat engineer vehicle for breaching minefields and complex obstacles. The
Army is considering purchasing some for its own use in Iraq. The Gladiator is a
wheeled, tele-operated, semi-autonomous UGV for armed reconnaissance and breaching
Jan. 31, 2005; Aarti Shah, “Navy Updates UUV Master Plan To Focus On Four Key Categories,”
Inside the Navy, Oct. 18, 2004; Keith Jacobs, “U.S. Navy Master Plan For UUV Development,”
Naval Forces, No. 3, 2005: 96, 98-102.
13 For additional discussion of UUV programs, see Richard Scott, “In Harm’s Way,” Jane’s
Defence Weekly, June 21, 2006: 22-24, 26-27; Glenn W. Goodman, “Breakthrough,” Seapower,
May 2006: 14-16; and Massimo Annati, “UUVs and AUVs Come of Age,” Military Technology,
No. 6, 2005: 72, 74-76, 78-80.
operations. It cab be equipped with machine guns, the Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose
Assault Weapon (SMAW), an obscuration smoke system, and a system for breaching anti-
personnel systems. The Marine Corps states that Gladiator “was recently removed from
System Design and Development (SDD) but development of the revised system
continues, test and contingency assets are being designed and built at Carnegie Mellon
University (CMU). The Gladiator Baseline 0 Contingency project design and build
[effort] is progressing, [and] delivery of the first system is scheduled for 3rd qtr FY07
with developmental testing to commence in 4th Qtr FY07. ”
The MarcBot IV is a small, tele-operated UGV for reconnaissance and surveillance,
particularly in investigating improvised explosive devices (IEDs). More than 500 have
been fielded for Marine Corps and Army use. An improved design (MarcBot V) is being
developed. The Talon is a small (two-man-portable), commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS),
tele-operated UGV used by explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) personnel. Numerous
systems have been fielded for Marine Corps and Army use, and use of additional payloads
(Such as metal detectors, explosive detectors, infrared devices, radars, and weapons) is
being explored. The FIDO-PackBot is a UGV equipped with an explosive vapor detector
for detecting vehicle- and personnel-borne IEDs at checkpoints and major points of entry.
A large number of units are planned for Marine Corps and Army use., with the first
entering service in early FY2007.
Issues for Congress
Potential issues for Congress regarding naval UVs include the following: What
implications might UVs have for required numbers and characteristics of naval ships and
manned aircraft, and naval concepts of operations? Since the current Navy UCAV and
Gladiator UGV programs will likely fall far short of meeting the goals established by
Section 220 of P.L. 106-398, should the these programs be accelerated so as to come
closer to meeting the goals, or should the goals in Section 220 be amended? How will the
restructuring of the J-UCAS program into the Navy-oriented UCAV program affect the
Navy UCAV effort? Are the Marine Corps’ UAV and UGV programs adequately
coordinated with those of the Army? Is the Marine Corps’ plan for using upgraded
Pioneers as an interim tactical UAV the best approach?
Legislative Activity in 2007
The Department of the Navy’s proposed FY2008 budget, with funding for various
Navy and Marine Corps UV programs, was submitted to Congress in February 2007.