> our title:

Initial Lessons from Unmanned Warrior Exercise In Scotland

> original title:

A Game for Drones - Lessons from Unmanned Warrior (excerpt)

(Source: Royal Aeronautical Society; posted Oct 25, 2016)

By Tim Robinson

Billed as the biggest ever military exercise involving unmanned systems, the UK’s Unmanned Warrior 16 took place in two weeks in October off the West Coast of Scotland.

The exercise was run by the Royal Navy with involvement of other services, as well as over 50 participants from the MoD, industry and academia. It also overlapped with another wargame, Exercise Joint Warrior, which allowed UAVs, USVs (unmanned surface vessels) and UUVs (unmanned underwater vessels) to be trialled in operationally representative scenarios. The missions included GEOINT (Geospatial intelligence), ASW (anti-submarine warfare), ISTAR and MCM (mine countermeasures).

However, it is important to clarify two things. First, despite the talk of ‘autonomous systems’ and headlines like ‘Robot Wars’ – there were no ‘killer terminators’ on the loose in the exercise. All drones taking part were unarmed and none were truly ‘autonomous’ – as in having their own ‘free will’. (As one expert quipped recently, “a drone will be truly autonomous when, after taking off, it decides to defect to the other side”). Instead, with humans always being ‘in the loop’, the autonomy being tested centred on automatic object detection or automatic route-finding. Autonomy in this sense, then, was looking at where machines can reduce the workload on human operators, not replace them.

Secondly, the exercise was not run with a definite MoD procurement programme in mind that companies were competing for. Instead it was a technology demonstration to explore concepts of operations (CONOPS), tactics and technology. The enthusiasm and commitment shown then by industry in participating in a demonstration with no immediate contract resulting from it, is therefore telling as to the wider significance of this event.

However, while UW16 is a Royal Navy initiative, it might be argued that the Senior Service has fallen behind other UK services (and even perhaps other navies) in embracing unmanned systems – perhaps why in 2014 the then First Sea Lord Admiral George Zambellas prioritised the idea of this demonstration.

While the RAF has flown Predator and Reaper and the Army now operates Watchkeeper, Desert Hawk and Black Widow, the RN’s only operational experience with UAVs has been the Scan Eagle UAV with 700X Sqn from 2013. This surveillance capability, brought in as a UOR (Urgent Operating Requirement) is now set to lapse in 2017 unless it is brought into the core MoD budget or some other solution found.

Even then, it is instructive to compare with other navies. The US Navy, for example, already fields the MQ-8B FireScout as a shipborne VTOL UAV, is about to field the MQ-4C Triton and is working on the MQ-25A Stingray – a carrier-borne unmanned aerial tanker. The US Marines meanwhile, fly the RQ-7B Shadow, as well as the RQM-11 Raven and the Insitu RQ-21A Integrator (Blackjack) - as well as testing unmanned cargo delivery with the K-MAX in Afghanistan. (end of excerpt)

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