Unmanned Vessels Integrated Into U.S. Fifth Fleet Ops

By Justin Katz

The Navy’s 5th Fleet said today it had successfully integrated 12 different unmanned platforms while conducting routine patrols in and around the Strait of Hormuz, according to a command statement.

“The integration of new, multidomain unmanned platforms into routine fleet operations provides more ‘eyes on the water,’ enhancing maritime domain awareness and increasing deterrence in the region,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of Naval Forces Central Command and 5th Fleet.

The statement did not elaborate on which platforms were used.

The operations included seven task forces, each with unique subject matter concentrations, and focused on “tracking Iranian Navy and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy ships and small boats over several days,” according to the statement.

“We have been operating [unmanned aerial vehicles] and [unmanned undersea vehicles] in the region for years,” said Capt. Joe Baggett, director of maritime operations for Naval Forces Central Command and 5th Fleet. “Adding our new [unmanned surface vehicles], and then integrating all of these platforms into fleet operations, is how we expect to fly and sail well into the future.”

5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, is also the headquarters for the Navy’s Task Force 59, one of several organizations that had personnel involved in the recent operations. While the task force was established roughly two years ago with the intent to experiment with unmanned and artificial intelligence, the service in recent months has shifted its focused into integrating the technology into operations.

Those efforts to integrate unmanned vessels have quickened since Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro and then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday earlier this year declared the technology “ready to scale.”

In addition to the activities in the Middle East, the service has conducted multiple exercises and operations using unmanned vessels in 4th Fleet, established its Disruptive Capabilities Office and deployed 10 Saildrone USVs as part of a year-long endeavor dubbed Operation Windward Stack.

Del Toro on multiple occasions has also publicly floated the possibility of expanding Task Force 59’s efforts into 7th Fleet, which operates in the Indo-Pacific.

This article was published by Breaking Defense on October 6, 2023.