WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2015 —
It wasn’t long ago that unmanned vehicles such as aerial drones were the stuff of science fiction, and now they’re turning up under the Christmas tree, Navy Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert said here today.
Delivering the keynote address at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo, Greenert, the chief of naval operations, warned of the erosion of the nation’s technological lead.
Until recently, satellite communications and imagery were accessible only to a very few, he said. Satellites were expensive and required infrared cameras, the admiral said. Now, the technology is available commercially, and it’s cheap, Greenert noted.
The result is that some of the United States’ long-standing technological advantages are starting to be challenged, he said.
The department recognizes this situation, the admiral said, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently called for innovations to support the department’s new offset strategy.
Science, Technology as Force Enablers
Science and technology serve as force enablers, Greenert said. Today’s innovations allow the Navy to set its course for tomorrow, he said, by enabling a bold, relevant and capable force.
The Navy’s research and development programs operate on two basic time scales, the admiral said. In the long term, scientists and engineers conduct basic research, Greenert said, while short-term programs are intended to “get wet quick,” to meet current war fighter needs.
These programs have a long history of delivering game-changing technology for the Navy, he said, noting examples such as quiet propulsion, GPS and the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System.
Future Weapons Systems
And the Navy will continue to rely on science and technology into the future, particularly as it looks to divest itself from gunpowder and rocket propellant, the admiral said.
Laser weapons systems and electromagnetic railguns are the future of naval weaponry, Greenert said. By moving away from volatile chemical propellants, he explained, ships can carry more ammunition, operate more safely and decrease their dependence on the logistical chain.
Both platforms can also shift the cost curve, the admiral said.
Laser weapons systems cost about $1.00 per shot to operate, he said, and following several months of testing aboard the USS Ponce, in December the weapon was authorized for self-defense.
While railguns are slightly more expensive to operate, Greenert acknowledged, at about $25,000 per round they are still significantly less expensive than the missiles they are intended to supplement or replace. With a range of more than 100 nautical miles, railguns have the potential to conduct precise naval surface fire support or land strikes.
Unmanned Underwater Vehicles
The Navy also seeks to improve the stamina of its unmanned underwater vehicles, the admiral said.
As the size of the submarine fleet decreases, opportunities and requirements for smarter, more reliable and more compact UUV’s will increase, he said.
The vehicles face threats not just from the enemy, Greenert noted, but from the operating environment. Advances in range, autonomy and endurance will translate to an increase in mission scope, the admiral added.
Lock Your Cyber Doors
Cyber security is Greenert’s biggest worry, he said. It is a key requirement for all systems and weapons, the admiral noted, and can’t just be bolted on after the fact.
Intellectual property theft means that the nation is hemorrhaging its best technology, he said, creating strategic vulnerabilities and giving adversaries years to develop countermeasures.
The Navy is counting on science and technology professionals to keep it on the bow wave of innovation, Greenert said. And not just in the digital realm, he added. There are unlimited opportunities to reuse or repurpose existing technology, the admiral said.
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)