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UDT 2011: Australia encourages increased autonomy for submarine operations
The Royal Australian Navy is examining extended autonomous capabilities on board submarines in a bid to 'keep up' with neighbours in South-East Asia, according to the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).
Speaking at the Undersea Defence Technology (UDT) exhibition in London, Dr Christopher Norwood of the DSTO Undersea Warfare Research Programme's Maritime Platform Division, said such improvements were required to keep pace with China's 70-strong submarine fleet, which has SSBN capability as well as boats in Japan, North and South Korea, India and Pakistan.
'Submarines are an extremely capable and effective platform performing a wide variety of operations and the most effective anti-submarine platform is another submarine. If your neighbours are in the game, you really need one to keep up,' he said.
Concentrating on areas in which DSTO could 'make a difference', Norwood described off-board sensors as 'key' in the future of underwater operations. 'Submarines can stand-off and send out small autonomous vehicles but this has extremely interesting challenges including launch and recovery and hydrodynamic interactions. Can they be recovered at speed or must the submarine slow right down [for recapture]?' he asked.
Norwood stopped short of suggesting there would be a fully-automomous submarine in the future, admitting: 'Would we send out a driver-less submarine? We are not quite at that stage.' However, he stated that there could be improvements in the C2 areas of a submarine with increased automation.
'There is continuing pressure to reduce crew size but which bit of the process can we automate and how much faith can we put on it? How much thinking do we want the platform and crew to do? There is plenty of room in research and development for that,' he said.
A 'single tactical picture', Norwood continued, is also desired in order for submarine crews to be able to deal with the 'information overload' they receive during maritime missions. If crews were able to 'fuse [it] together' more efficiently, the information being fed to crews would make more sense, he stressed.
In addition, Norwood admitted that there were energy challenges relating to both submarine and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) as well as navigation issues. 'UAVs can fly around with GPS but this has not been mastered for underwater yet. If you send an autonomous vehicle out, you need it to arrive back to you in the right spot.'
He also stated that the DSTO was considering the deployment of additional off-board systems from UUVs although he would not go into further detail. 'This is something we are looking at and one of the challenges we face.'
Furthermore, he questioned how many UUVs should be operated from a surrogate submarine and asked whether they should be expendable or recoverable. 'What is the cost if it is captured or lost and how much information do I want to try and transmit back to a submarine during an operation?' he asked.
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