“This is that orbiting piece on the
outside of a Littoral Combat Ship, or
one of our destroyers or frigates,
that can be out there and expand
our range a little bit,” Conti said.
Cmdr. Benjamin Salazar, director,
experiment execution, U.S. Fleet
Forces Command, said the Navy is
trying to make sure the AMN technology can distinguish among the
different behaviors of a range boat, a
fishing vessel and a vessel of interest.
“The situations out on the water
are a little bit different than Mars,”
AMN testing in the future will
include the use of weapons, but there
are more hurdles to overcome before
that capability is added, Salazar said.
“There are more problems when
you are dealing with shooting at
targets,” he said.
The Coast Guard and Customs
and Border Patrol usually are
tasked with ship escorts into harbors. But when the Navy is needed
for escort duties, autonomous vessels would help keep Sailors safer
and allow the service to make better use of its manpower, according
to the Navy.
“[Escorting] does exist, but it’s at a very high premi-
um, especially in the personnel department,” Salazar
said. “Are we taking a job away? Yes. We have really
smart Sailors and maybe we can better use them
instead of driving a boat around the water 10 hours per
Peter Singer, a defense expert with the Brookings
Institution, a Washington-based think tank, said AMN
technology is a capability the Navy needs, but history
suggests it might be a while before it becomes a pro-
gram of record.
“The Navy in particular, as opposed to the Air Force
and the Army, has not embraced this type of technology
as much and particularly faces an issue of moving systems from prototypes to systems of record,” he said.
Singer said the Navy, unlike the Marine Corps,
which urgently needed intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance technology in Afghanistan, has not
faced situations recently that would cause the service
to quickly purchase this type of technology.
“Does [the Navy] look at this as a capability that
enables them to do more with less, or do they look at
this as a potential threat to an already existing program
A common unmanned surface vehicle patrols for intruders during Trident
Warrior 2011 July 20 at Fort Monroe, Va. The experimental boat can operate
autonomously or by remote control.
of record? That’s the big question: how do you look at
it?” he said.
Although AMN may take Sailors out of ships, Singer
said this could be a good thing in the long run.
“Driving back and forth on the water for hours is
incredibly dull, and that can wear out a crew but it
won’t wear out a computer,” he said.
Singer believes the Navy eventually will get AMN as
a program of record.
“It’s part of the robotics revolution that’s creating a
massive amount of change across the battle space.”
The three boats and one RHIB used during Trident
Warrior cost around $30,000 each but Salazar said an
older vessel could be refurbished and equipped with
“Your cost of operation could be drastically
decreased,” he said.
The Navy said it did not have a cost estimate for the
AMN technology because it is still experimental.
With an emphasis on cutting costs, Conti said that
once AMN technology enters the fleet, the Navy will
want to get it on ships as fast as possible.
“[AMN technology] is too much of a game changer,” he said. ■