MARTAC Sea Serpent Sonar: Enhancing the Capability for Integrated USW and ASW Operations

By Defense.Info

MARTAC’s unmanned surface vessels provide for significant flexibility with regard to payloads. One payload which their USVs can deliver is a sonar capability.

USW and USW is a “team sport.”

The U.S. and allied navies are looking to add cost effective capabilities to the fleet to combat a range of underwater threats, such as drug smugglers submersibles, adversarial underwater autonomous systems, or submarines.

We did an interview in Norfolk in 2021 with a senior submarine commander on the changing nature of USW or ASW and how adding capabilities to an integrated fleet provided enhanced capabilities to deliver USW and ASW capabilities for the maritime force.

This is what we wrote after that interview:

Last Fall, 2nd Fleet hosted the 2020 version of Black Widow, an Atlantic-focused USW  exercise.

But to be completely accurate, although the term ASW is most commonly used, what we are discussing is undersea warfare. USW is an integrated fight against all undersea threats, with submarines being a key, but not the only threat. ASW is part of USW.

As one Naval officer put it: “When we tend to discuss an integrated fight, we try to use the term USW, but when we are specifically hunting for just a submarine, ASW is the correct term.”

This is not classic USW, but one in which new capabilities are being woven into shaping a 21st century version of USW to deal with a 21st century threat posed from the sea. USW is becoming reshaped by the interactive kill web approach of multi-domain assets focused on a core warfighting capability and set of relevant skill sets…..

Clearly, the submarine remains the number one sub killer with weapons deployed for this purpose.

But with the expanded capability of surface and air-borne assets to find, track and kill submarines, the role of the underwater U.S. Navy force changes as well.  It can be the cutting-edge stalker or killer or work through the kill web force to get the desired result. In fact, having a wider range of options for prosecution and destruction of adversary submarines than in the past is a key element for 21st century maritime operations and warfare.

There is the question of the coming of maritime autonomous systems and how they might fit into the concepts of operations which the Rear Admiral is shaping and executing.

Recently, the Navy released its plan for developing and then integrating maritime autonomous systems into the force.

Clearly, one domain where this may well happen is in the ISR side of providing information for both ASW and anti-surface warfare. The promise is there, but also the question of the readiness of the networks to handle data and where that data will go remains a work in progress.

This is how Rear Admiral Waters put it: “Unmanned systems will play an important role in the future.

“The fact that they can dwell for long periods, and we don’t have to worry about feeding the people on board, will provide an important contribution in the undersea warfare area.

“Unmanned systems have  the ability to stare for a long time and if you could put a platform out there that can either stay in the air a really long time or stay in the environment with acoustic sensors for a really long time, that gives you the ability to sense the environment.

“The challenge comes with regard to how what information you have gathered becomes useful.

“We have to have the place where they plug in, and how to use that information in the area of interest?”

Adding USV platforms  to the fleet provides for enhanced capabilities against underwater threats whether in the littorals or in the blue water regions.