In 1883, after years of neglect and the “Great Repairs” scheme of creating new ships by recycling old equipment from derelict Civil War-era vessels into new hulls with the same name old name, Congress authorized the construction of the country’s first modern steel warships: the protected cruisers Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and the gunboat Dolphin.
Known as the “ABCD Ships,” these four warships were soon augmented by others, the gunboats Bennington and Concord, bridging the gap between the old wood-and-sail navy (augmented by iron) and one of steam and steel (which still had some auxiliary sail rigs), to form the Squadron of Evolution between 1889 and 1891 to figure out how to work together.
It was the mark of technological advancement that left the ships familiar to centuries of sailors and mariners in the past and moved into what we know today. Just eight years later, the all-steel Navy proved itself handily in the Spanish American War.
Speaking of which, if you aren’t paying attention to the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem 21 (UxS IBP 21), you are missing today’s Squadron of Evolution, whose motto is:
“Haze gray and unmanned.”
As noted by Third Fleet, “UxS IBP 21 integrates manned and unmanned capabilities into the operational scenarios to generate warfighting advantages.”
“The integration between unmanned and manned capabilities shown today provides an operations approach to strengthening our manned-unmanned teaming,” said Rear Adm. James A. Aiken, UxS IBP 21 tactical commander. “Putting our newest technology into our Sailors’ hands directly enhances our fleet.”
You are seeing the Sea Hawk and Sea Hunter medium displacement unmanned surface vessels (USVs), equipped with what seems like VDS, working in tandem. It is not hard to imagine squadrons of these cleared to conduct autonomous ASW inside “kill boxes” where no Allied subs are hiding, with man-in-the-loop authorization before weapons release of course.
Speaking of which, the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) seems to be interacting with Sea Hawk/Hunter, as witnessed by a large SATCOM array on her stern.
For protection, long-range unmanned surface vessels (LRUSV) have been seen operating alongside surface assets as stand-off watchdogs for the fleet, ironically a task that destroyers were originally created for: to “destroy” torpedo boat swarms before they could reach the precious battleships.
Speaking of which, how about the MANTAS T38 Devil Ray unmanned surface vehicle?
Then there is the super low-profile SeaLandAire ADARO X-class unmanned surface vehicle, a sort of pocket USV that can be deployed in 5-minutes and incorporates a modular payload bay for snooping around coastlines in a recon role or augmenting ship protection in a counter frogman/sapper capacity. Alternatively, they could be filled with enough of an EW beacon to be used as a seductive decoy countermeasure, adding to the layered defense to counter anti-ship missiles.
Acting as a mothership for dozens of such craft could be the silver lining for the LCS program.
To the air
Navalised Predator UAVs, MQ-9 SeaGuardians, keeping watch in the air, equipped for surface search and surveillance but with pylons available for ordnance if needed. It can also drop sonobuoys.
You want a squadron of persistent fixed-winged ASW/ASuW aircraft to fill the void left with the P-8 Poseidon replacing the P-3 Orion at a 1:3 ratio and the dry socket leftover from when the S-3 Viking left the fleet? Add a squadron of these to a secondhand container ship or tanker converted to a UAV flattop and hit the repeat button as many times as you need to if the experiment works. Bring back retired naval aviators to fly them via secure datalink and call the ball.
Add to this other UAVs with a smaller footprint. One small enough to be used from far-flung island outposts akin to how the U.S. and Japanese sprinkled seaplane bases around the Western Pacific in WWII, only much easier and with far less infrastructure.
Talk about a glimpse into the future.