Integration is key in modern naval warfare
Naval warfare now involves eye-watering levels of complexity. Warships carry a raft of sensors, effectors, and networks—all capable of producing huge amounts of highly accurate data and images. Situation awareness and understanding are everything, and the key is being able to fuse and interpret all these feeds for use at the decisive moment. Today’s frigates operate sophisticated Combat Management Systems (CMSs) running applications that integrate data from a host of on-board, and off-board, sensors. The latest warships are even more advanced, aiming to integrate further data from other ship networks, using Bridge Management Systems, Communications Systems, and Integrated Platform Management Systems.
Unmanned mine warfare takes integration to new levels
Yet the move to develop unmanned mine warfare systems, takes integration issues to an entirely new level. Next-generation MCM motherships are fitted for combat like small corvettes, facing all the integration challenges above, but they also deploy a complex array of unmanned assets (a “toolbox”)—increasing the integration complexity manyfold. Now, further systems must be integrated, such as mine warfare packages, and, above all, the drones themselves.
The purpose of the mothership is to operate Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs), Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)—which can function autonomously, and carry sophisticated sensors gathering vast amounts of data. If an MCM mission is to run smoothly, they must be fully integrated with the platform and its CMS, both in terms of planning, coordination, payload control and data transfer, as well as ensuring cybersecure communication with each other for collaborative autonomy. Such “system-of-systems” integration is a genuinely groundbreaking discipline—and a deeply complex challenge.
The key to managing risks
With so many layers of complexity, a client’s number-one concern is risk. But how can such risks be managed? The keys are experience, expertise, and process. Expertise is vital: a player developing unmanned MCM must have knowledge of its many disciplines. This is only possible in an entity with comprehensive reach, and the ability to bring together dispersed know-how. Experience is key too: both thorough knowledge and experience of systems integration on modern vessels, as well as an existing track record of integrating unmanned assets at sea. Together, these mean that proven building blocks can be used to reduce the risk of overall integration into the “system-of-systems”.
Sitting over all this is process. Here, it’s imperative to use a holistic and top-down process that steps from mission, to systems, to subsystem design. Only this logical approach can move a project from CONOPS, through engineering, integration and trials, and, finally, to lifetime support. Experience in some major navies has shown that selecting a variety of unmanned vehicles from the market and then attempting to engineer such a system of systems is a recipe for disaster. Embedding the process ensures that all experts, the complex range of equipment and systems, as well as all subcontractors, are brought together to meet deadlines and reduce risks across the whole supply chain.