MARCH 20, 2015, DAHLGREN, Va. (NNS) – Navy officials – confident a new technological capability tested on the Potomac River Test Range will transform surface warfare – are looking ahead to its future impact in the fleet.
Their outlook, however, would be clouded if the live fire test featuring unmanned vehicles and the Aegis weapon system never occurred.
Fortunately, Navy Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) funding ensured that the military and civilian leaders could see technologies supporting the science of integration guide gun fire onto distant targets at a Sept. 29, 2014 event.
NISE funding permitted Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) scientists and engineers to research, develop, test, and evaluate the new integrated surface warfare capability in a maritime environment over the past 12 months of this effort’s initial phase.
“This demonstration was a fantastic example of the utilization of internal laboratory NISE funds to educate our junior workforce while exploring technical gaps between traditional system funded development and mission level integration to fully demonstrate a kill chain,” said Neil Baron, NSWCDD distinguished scientist for combat control. “We also demonstrated a tangible example of proactively designing interoperability and integration into our surface fleet’s future warfighting capabilities.”
For the first time, unmanned surface and air vehicles – integrated with naval guns and the Aegis combat system – relayed targeting data to operators engaging fictitious threats on the Potomac River Test Range.
“This is a major first step in demonstrating an integrated surface warfare capability utilizing unmanned vehicles in support of the key engagement functions of plan, detect, control, engage and assess,” said Baron. “We are working hard at focusing on the integration sciences to deal with mission engineering challenges for surface warfare.”
Specifically, Baron and his team of Navy scientists and engineers used the science of integration to make surface warfare systems interoperable with unmanned air and surface vehicles, allowing naval gunnery to receive streaming identification and shot correction data.
“It’s a spectacular example of how scientists and engineers are enabling new technologies for the warfighter,” said Baron. “NISE funding was critical to the successful demonstration as an enabler of the integration needs between the individual systems used to detect, control, engage and assess the target threat – demonstrating the full sensor-to-shooter kill chain.”
Surface warfare officers evaluating the technology joined civilian technologists at the event to prove the Navy can bridge interoperability gaps – known as the interstitial space – between complex system-of-systems.
“The ability to send a small, persistent unmanned system down range in hostile territory for real-time gun or missile engagement spotting and targeting is needed by warships,” said NSWCDD Engagement Systems Department Military Deputy Cmdr. Marc Williams. “The technology has the potential to be important for surface ships, especially relating to Aegis weapon system, Naval Surface Fire Support, and surface warfare.”
Williams – the surface warfare tactical action officer for the experiment – ordered a gun engagement on a fictitious threat based on identification and targeting data he saw streaming from an unmanned surface vehicle.
At that point, the commander used a deployed Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle’s streaming video data to spot, precisely target, engage and continually support reengagement through gun targeting corrections to the MK160 gun weapon system operator.
“Scan Eagle has been deployed on guided-missile destroyers for years to provide persistent electro-optical and infrared surveillance,” said Williams, adding that, “it has been used for Naval Surface Fire Support spotting to walk gun rounds onto an enemy target, but not in an automated fashion like in this experiment.”
Williams used a Navy technology called Visual Automated Scoring System (VASS) to instantly correct the gun targeting.
The NSWCDD-patented system is an automated, computerized tool for determining gunfire miss distances using video data. With a non-line of sight weapon system, VASS allows the gunner to adapt gun pointing angle and converge gunfire onto a target without having to risk the lives of forward observers.
“This was as much a demonstration about integration as it was about the three research initiatives being exercised,” said Baron. “Through NISE funds, we plan to continue this advancement throughout 2015 by complicating the threat definition and bringing to bear multiple gun engagements – from different virtual ships – onto the threat to demonstrate force level engagement coordination.”
The command’s NISE funded initiatives featured a virtual ship called the USS Dahlgren, VASS adaptive fire control, and new mission engineering efforts to link surface combatant warfare systems with unmanned vehicles.
Throughout the test, the cybernetic USS Dahlgren responded to reports of hostile threats by searching intelligence and data across multiple air and ship control operational systems, maximizing response accuracy and timeliness.
“The virtual USS Dahlgren is hosting new technological advancements and platforms for integrated test and evaluation full speed ahead,” said NSWCDD Technical Director Dennis McLaughlin who watched the demonstration. “We are providing linkage that ensures our test and evaluation capabilities can be rapidly adapted to changing warfighter needs.”
NISE funding allowed the Navy to establish connectivity and security boundaries between dispersed laboratories making the virtual USS Dahlgren possible. The NISE money also supported in-house development of the VASS adaptive fire control and its streaming video from the UAV.
“The science of integration – a relatively new area of investigation for NSWC Dahlgren Division – hides in the interstitial space,” said Baron. “We are working hard at focusing on the integration sciences to deal with mission engineering challenges for surface warfare. These demonstrations are casting a strong light into the interstitial space to address naval interoperability and integration challenges and continue to advance warfighting capabilities into our surface fleet.”
Bridging the interstitial space between Navy surface combatants, integrated systems, and adaptive fire control is vital to accomplish key fiscal year 2015 Navy objectives – proliferating unmanned systems, integrating unmanned systems into the Navy culture, and developing, fielding, and deploying unmanned systems in the air, on and under the sea, and on the ground.