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SOF Week 2023: How Collaborative Autonomy can revolutionise multi-domain missions

10th May 2023 - 15:58 GMT | by Andrew White in Tampa


An artist's impression shown during the SOF Week keynote depicted a scenario with multiple quadcopter UAS, a Roc-X loitering munition and a Combatant Craft Medium (CCM) operating in the same area. (Photo: author)

USSOCOM is betting on meshed networking technology to enable a single operator to control multiple swarming uncrewed systems across air, land and sea.

A SOF operator should be able to manipulate a swarm of multi-domain, autonomous platforms using a single control solution, senior leaders from US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) have asserted this week.

The scenario was outlined by USSOCOM’s acquisition executive Jim Smith at SOF Week on 9 May, and he suggested such a capability would neatly fit into the Tampa-based command’s ‘Collaborative Autonomy’ concept.

In his keynote address, Smith described how the command must get away from the ‘tyranny’ of one operator being tied to a single, uncrewed system.

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Admitting the concept remains in ‘early stages’, Smith said: 'We are getting better but there is a lot of work to do. I want one operator to operate a swarm of multi-domain platforms, using a meshed networking capability in contested environments.”

Smith’s comments were accompanied by an artist's impression of a scenario which showed multiple quadcopter UAS, IAI’s Roc-X loitering munition and Naval Special Warfare Command's Combatant Craft Medium (CCM) operating in the same area.

'I’d like Group 3 UAS to talk to Group 2 UAS and talk to a tactical team on the ground which can talk to a loitering munition to have effects in an area of operation,' he continued.

Speaking at a media roundtable later in the day, Smith added: 'We are not there today in terms of using a single ground control station for multiple uncrewed systems but we are moving quickly since the start of the financial year with aggressive sprints to mature that technology over the next 12 months.'

A universal control station would also support USSOCOM’s Uncrewed ISR Roadmap which is pursuing Collaborative Autonomy, according to Program Executive Officer for Fixed Wing, Col Ken Kuebler.

'Right now, one pilot is operating one MQ-9. We need a mission operator to control multiple platforms at the same time and hand off to ground troops or SEALs while some [UAS] operate autonomously.

“'It’s not just about Group 4 and 5 UAS but also [smaller] air-launched effects being dropped from Group 4 UAS to get after the threat. We are getting after this, this year with a series of “crawl, walk and run” demos. This is a big idea with small steps,” he said.

Also present at SOF Week was AeroVironment which has developed the Crysalis Ground Control Station, designed to control any uncrewed platform benefiting from open architecture.

Speaking to Shephard, Aerovironment’s CEO, Wahid Nawabi, explained how Crysalis was device- and platform-agnostic.

'This is the design, intent and architecture of Crysalis. It is about a common controller and you can bring your own device or even your own controller. You can run Cyrsalis on any Android-based tablet,' he explained.

'A few years ago, we had the Blackwing [UAS] launched out of a submarine. Then the Blackwing in the air actually connected to other uncrewed surface vessels and uncrewed underwater vehicles and the US Navy was able to actually control those from inside the control centre of the submarine with our system.

“So these are all the capabilities that we can do today with Crysalis as an intelligent, multi-domain, robotic system solution.'

Andrew White


Andrew White

Andrew is a former editor of Digital Battlespace and Unmanned Vehicles magazines. Andrew joined Shephard …

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