CAVASSHIPS Podcast [Apr 29, ’22] Episode 46…Fixing the Approach to Unmanned


Welcome to the CavasShips Podcast with Christopher P. Cavas and Chris Servello…a weekly podcast looking at naval and maritime events and issues of the day – in the US, across the seas and around the world. This Week…Congress has begun its annual series of Navy budget hearings, the Navy continues to grapple with suicides among the crew of the carrier USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, and CNO Gilday made some interesting comments at an appearance this week. We’ll take a closer look.

In this Week’s Squawk Chris Servello has questions about the US Navy’s basic focus in developing unmanned systems.

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This Week’s Naval Round Up:

Marine Corps Lieutenant General Karsten Heckl told Congress this week that when the commander of US European Command in mid-February asked the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group to deploy early, the ships were unable to do so due to their “maintenance status.” Marines of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit were ready to go, but it was another month before the assault ship KEARSARGE and amphibious transport dock ARLINGTON deployed on March 16, while the third ship in the group, the dock landing ship GUNSTON HALL, left a week later, on March 28. Heckl, the Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration, told the Senate Seapower subcommittee that the group “should have been on station and available for the combatant commander tasking and it was not.” Heckl related the incident in support of the Marines’ requested force level of large amphibious ships.

The Marines declared initial operating capability for the new CH-53K heavy lift helicopter on April 22. Built by Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin, the 53K King Stallion is intended to replace earlier versions of the long-serving H-53 helos. The aircraft is intended to enter full-rate production in 2023, with the Marines aiming to buy a total of 200 if the big helicopters.

In the United Kingdom, a keel ceremony was held April 26 for the Royal Navy’s first Type 31 frigate, the future HMS VENTURE. Five Type 31s are currently planned to be built, all in a new Babcock production facility near Rosyth Dockyard in Scotland.

In war news, the British Ministry of Defence noted on April 28 that about 20 Russian Navy vessels, including submarines, remain operational in the Black Sea. MoD added that the Bosphorus Strait – the only passage in and out of the Black Sea – remains closed to all non-Turkish warships, rendering Russia unable to replace the sunken cruiser MOSKVA. Russia has two other cruisers of the same class, and both remain operational in the Mediterranean Sea, blocked from entering the Black Sea. Most of the major Russian naval units in the Mediterranean have been alongside the port of Tartus in Syria or anchored offshore.

In the Pacific, the US destroyer SAMPSON made a Taiwan Strait transit on April 26, keeping up the roughly once-a-month pace maintained by the US Navy and partner nations since 2018. China, as it always does after a US transit of the strait, condemned the move and said it deliberately undermines the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait. The Taiwanese government, however, called the passage, quote, “normal.”


If you paid close attention to the CNO‘s remarks on unmanned surface vessels yesterday… it wasn’t just the medium sized USV that he seemed to question…to me it was the whole approach to how the Navy, industry and Congress are attacking this problem.

Admiral Gilday is right to be skeptical…he all but told us this isn’t a hardware problem…its a software problem…a data problem…and that’s where the Navy, industry and Congress should focus their efforts.

Expecting warfighters and hardware primes to define requirements or missions before you understand the software realm of the possible is incomplete at best.

As CNO mentioned, the work being done by Admiral Brad Cooper and Combined Task Force 59 is laudable…they are working the “as is”…or the “how do I use unmanned to make the manned fleet a more lethal and more effective” part of the problem.”

But in order to really move forward it has to be attacked in multiple time horizons. There must be an effort looking well into the future that assumes no manned capability…and then works backward to find where the “as is” and “should be” meet.

These converging efforts must be data driven to inform the creation of software which can then advance the thinking on hardware requirements, specs and numbers.

In short, the current approach is back-asswards and is likely wasting time and resources the Navy, industry and Congress doesn’t have. Its time to rewicker… to be more collaborative and data driven.

This is not a problem the Navy can solve by itself…it must recognize the need or be forced to ask for help. Continuing to look for a newer shinier rock…either in the form of the strategy or the platform isn’t cutting it.

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