Navy event showcases latest in drone technology
Newport — Perhaps one day it'll be like the Paris Air Show for naval technology, surmised Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
For the past several days, government contractors and members of labs and academia have gathered next to Narragansett Bay to demonstrate the latest in drone technology. It is the third year that the Naval Undersea Warfare Center has hosted the event, called the Advanced Naval Technology Exercise. The Naval Surface Warfare Center simultaneously held a similar event in Panama City, Fla.
In the past, the event has showcased how different drones, which the Navy prefers to call unmanned vehicles, in the air, on land and at sea, can work with one another to carry out different missions. This year, it was about seeing how that coordination could play out in a potential threat situation.
"The unmanned vehicles, we send them in ahead of time, undetected, and therefore they can really scope out the battlefield and get the information back" to military operators, said Capt. Michael Coughlin, commanding officer of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.
On the job for five months now, Coughlin said the event, his first as the head of NUWC, has grown in size and scope. He was most impressed by the participants' willingness to collaborate, given that technology companies are often closed-mouthed and don't want to share information, especially with their competitors.
While the technologies demonstrated during the event were all at the research and development level, they could have major implications for national security. As event pamphlets pointed out, U.S. adversaries have taken an interest in the event and what goes on there. The pamphlets advised participants to keep critical information protected, and reminded them of a "large foreign presence in the Newport area."
Booths were scrubbed of any sensitive information Wednesday to allow the media and other guests to get a glimpse of what was going on.
Almost all of the technologies on display were relevant to submarine operations. Take the nearly 15-foot prototype that launches small unmanned submarines and unmanned aircraft simultaneously.
The goal was to develop a way for a submarine to launch smaller unmanned submarines and aircraft without having to displace any weapons, said Jennifer Panosky, a project manager for payload integration at General Dynamics Electric Boat. The prototype launcher has taken several years to develop.
"There's not many places you can launch something from a submarine, so in order to put something on, you have to take something off — unless you come up with a new launcher," she said.
The launcher would be placed outside the pressure hull, such as in the submarine's sail. Being able to launch a submarine drone and aircraft at the same time would bring new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to the Navy, Panosky said.
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