That will mean it will have to place a high priority
on key Navy challenges: creating systems with an open
architecture that have the capability for advanced communications and that can act autonomously.
“In general, for next-gen unmanned systems, Lockheed
Martin is really setting the stage,” Ruszkowski said.
Doug Hardison, strategic development manager for
General Atomics, said his company is aware of the
unique challenge the Navy faces when it comes to covering the vast ocean spaces.
“There’s a lot of concern from the fleet about provid-
ing more capabilities,” Hardison said. “Part of that
problem is how do you network those capabilities?
We’re looking at laser communications, aircraft to
satellite communications and we’re looking at what’s
next for the future environment.”
He pointed toward the development of the Avenger,
formerly known as the Predator C. It follows in the
footsteps of the MQ- 1 Predator and the MQ- 9 Reaper
(Predator B), and it aims to tackle some of the 21st
century problems the Navy faces.
“We’re looking at the small boat issue,” Hardison
said. “We’re looking at a lot of the Navy’s potential
threats, and looking at integrating the high-energy
laser aboard the Avenger, which we think will have a
good maritime role.
“Taking a radar off a manned platform and throwing
it on a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] is not as simple
as it sounds,” he said. “There’s a lot of specific chal-
lenges with regard to integration on UAS. … We’re in
the business of solving UAS challenges.”
Of course, none of that work matters if the upper
echelons of the Navy do not place a high enough pri-
ority on unmanned systems, and at least one analyst
questions if they do.
Phil Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at the
Teal Group, said the Navy has lagged behind the other
services when it comes to adopting unmanned systems
and fully embracing their utility. He pointed toward
what appeared to be a wavering commitment to the
MQ- 8, with budgets alternately cutting and adding aircraft, as an example.
The UCLASS platform and the MQ-4C Triton are
moving ahead, but “there doesn’t seem to yet be a full
embrace of unmanned systems like you have in the
other services,” he said.
However, with UCLASS kicking off and Fire Scouts
and Tritons starting to make their mark on the fleet,
now is the Navy’s chance to show it can fully embrace
unmanned systems, Finnegan said.
“What happens with UCLASS will be an important
indicator of that,” he said. ;