Surface Forces: US Navy Crippled by Incompetence


June 5, 2024: The U.S. Navy noted the success of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), and USVs (Unmanned Surface Vessels) in the Ukraine War and decided to adopt them to enhance the USNs ability to deal with the Chinese Navy, especially if the Chinese should attack Taiwan.

The U.S. already has several USVs. For example, there is Remus 100 that the navy successfully used in the Persian Gulf fifteen years ago. Remus 100 is a 37 kg vehicle that looks like a small torpedo. It is 1.6 meters long and 190mm in diameter. Carrying a side scanning sonar and other sensors, a Remus 100 can stay underwater for 22 hours, traveling at a cruising speed of five kilometers an hour (top speed is nearly twice that.) The UUV can operate up to 100 kilometers from its operator, and dive to 100 meters. The UUV keeps costs down by using GPS, in addition to inertial guidance. The UUV surfaces every hour or two to get a GPS fix, and then goes back to doing what it was programmed to do. Ukraine will use them to find and eliminate Russian bottom mines in shallow coastal waters.

Remus 100 was designed mainly for civilian applications (inspecting underwater facilities, pollution monitoring, underwater survey, or search). But there are similar military and police applications, notably searching for naval mines.

More recently the USN established USVRON (Unmanned Surface Vessel Squadron) 3 at a navy west coast base. The squadron operates USVs known as GARCs (Global Autonomous Reconnaissance Craft). These are small, 1.6 ton, 4.8 meter long USVs with a top speed of 65 kilometers an hour. Range varies depending on cruising speed. At 54 kilometers an hour max range is 750 kilometers. At 11 kilometers an hour the range is 1,300 kilometers. GARCs are designed to handle 2.5 meter waves and moderate winds. Any more than that and a GARC will be blown off course until the seas return to normal.

GARCS were developed to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance missions and transmit their video images back to another ship or land station for a human operator to monitor if needed. GARC can also carry sonar and use that to detect submarines. Any contacts are reported to a warship which can then use anti-submarine torpedoes or dispatch helicopters equipped with one or more anti-submarine torpedoes. GARC is also well suited to detecting and destroying naval mines.

GARC’s autonomous behavior and sensors make it ideal for port patrol and identifying and reporting any actual or potential threats. GARCs have been successfully used this way in the Persian Gulf to protect ports where American ships are berthed.

In addition to GARC and Remus there are several other autonomous vessels including surface and underwater craft that can spend months at sea monitoring and recording conditions. These vessels include surface vessels like the 7 meter long Saildrone Explorer that stay at sea for a year while moving along at a speed of 5.6 kilometers an hour. Speed depends on how much wind there is because Explorer actually has a small sail. This includes conditions underwater, which are valuable to submarines, especially USN nuclear submarines that remain underwater for months at a time.

What the U.S. Navy has not been able to produce are the cheap, effective UAVs and USVs the Ukrainian used to cripple the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The problem is situational and political. The American situation is peacetime, not wartime. When you are at war things are done quickly, effectively, and inexpensively. Ukraine demonstrated that with its domestic UAV and USV programs. In the United States peacetime defense procurement is a lot more expensive and takes longer than it would in wartime. That means the Ukrainian type UAVs and UUVs will cost the USN far more than the Ukrainian models and take years to reach the U.S. Pacific Fleet. If China goes to war over Taiwan that situation changes in a hurry. Meanwhile, you go to war with what you have when war is declared. Right now the American navy has none of those clever and effective Ukrainian UAVs and USVs. Keep in mind that it took the Ukrainians over a year, after the Russian invasion, to come up with their brilliant and effective UAV and USV tactics that crippled and defeated the mighty Russian Black Sea Fleet.

The United States knows that Ukraine did in the Black Sea but that knowledge does not quickly translate into similar American weapons. The primary problem is so few American naval commanders understand exactly what the Ukrainian did and how to replicate that for the American Pacific Fleet, where such Ukrainian technology is needed.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close