U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael Gilday on evaluating unmanned systems for Real World applications.
The U.S. Navy is no stranger to the use and deployment of unmanned systems (such as a Sea Guardian aerial drone), but according to Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, Task Force 59 will be the U.S. Navy’s first employment of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), unmanned sea vessels (USV), and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) in numbers that combine their capabilities with manned platforms for multidomain operations in all areas of the maritime battlespace from air to below the sea with the goal of using unmanned systems that have not been used before. Naval News reached out to NAVCENT’s Public Affairs Officer for clarification on the quantity and type of unmanned systems within Task Force 59 and the NAVCENT’s spokesperson replied, “We’re not discussing specific platforms or capabilities. Similarly, we’re not discussing the size or footprint of our current unmanned assets in the region. Regarding funding, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command established the task force with existing resources. No additional funding was required. On your last question [regarding the primary controlling platform], it depends on the system. But as I’ve already mentioned, we’re not discussing specific platforms or capabilities.”
The NAVCENT spokesperson declined to answer to Naval News’ inquiry on if any of the U.S. Special Warfare Command’s (USSSOCOM) Naval Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM) platforms, manned or unmanned, will be part of NAVCENT’s Task Force 59 or if any Classified unmanned systems will be fielded.
Captain Michael Brasseur, a former Littoral Combat Ship and Patrol Coastal boat captain, will become the first commodore for Task Force 59 (TF 59). Task Force 59 launched on 9 September 2021 and was designed in late July 2021 in Bahrain. The NAVCENT area has 5,000 miles (8,046 kilometers) of coastline and three critical chokepoints that are the Suez Canal, the Straits of Hormuz, and the Bab-el-Mandeb.
“We want more `eyes on’ as to what is out there. We got to process and sort in Realtime, to determine what is relevant to the mission, so this is where the AI [Artificial Intelligence] piece really comes in here.”
“If the new [unmanned] systems work here, they can probably work elsewhere and we’ll scale them across other fleets.”
Vice Admiral Brad Cooper on Task Force 59 at the opening remarks at the media roundtable on the 8th of September, 2021.
The Media Roundtable of reporters from various Defense publications that called into the phone conference asked these questions to NAVCENT about Task Force 59. The reporters’ questions and answers below are generally summarized, edited, and annotated for brevity. (Naval News has inserted clarification thought analysis with brackets [ ]).
Q: What is Task Force 59 going to do?
A: “We’re clutched in with the Navy’s [unmanned] staff command,” said Vice Admiral Cooper and the goal of Task Force 59 is to take today’s unmanned systems and combine UAS with USV and UUVs.
Q: What is the [usage] difference between USVs and UUVs?
A: This allows for multi-domain operations and to have Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability on and below the sea.
Q: Will there be any sort of counter-UAS platform [an Anti-Drone defense system]?
A: “There is really a division of labor,” said Vice Admiral Cooper, “Think of it as going on the offense of unmanned [systems compared to just using ISR drone defense].” The Vice Admiral noted that Task Force 59 will allow the U.S. Navy to be more aggressive with our own systems, both manned and unmanned.
Q: How will Task Force 59 work with Project Overmatch and what is the role of the Defense industry?
A: From the design phase, Task Force 59 has utilized both government and military in uniform and civilian personnel along with the input and the research and development experience of universities. Project Overmatch was in the design sprint.
Q: How is Task Force 59 functionally working?
A: “Taking those systems and capturing lessons from them,” replied Vice Admiral Cooper with the plan of leading to a big naval exercise with Task Force 59. This will allow Task Force 59 to bring coherence across naval task forces in the vertical (air to below the sea) and horizontal (across the battlespace with the U.S. Navy’s allies) environments.
Q: Will Predator UAVs be used and where will they come from?
A: Yes, Predator UAVs will be used and they will come from other branch services.
Q: Why choose CENTCOM [the Middle East] Area of Operations for Task Force 59? Why not choose the INDO-PACOM region?
A: Vice Admiral Cooper said that the CENTCOM 5th Fleet’s region is very maritime-centric and a rich maritime environment. TF 59 allows CENTCOM to increase “our eyes on and in the sea.” The Vice Admiral noted that INDO-PACOM can have monsoons that might interfere with TF 59. This is a 34-member coalition, noted Cooper, and it will be heavily partnered to “Move it horizontally with our allies.”
Q: What is the goal that you want to learn with Task Force 59? What are the experiments that Task Force 59 will operate?
A: “We’ll take systems that we didn’t have in theater and use them now. We have to get them in the water and move quickly with them,” said Vice Admiral Cooper.
Q: Will Task Force 59 require more funding to become operational?
A: “We are completely aligned with the unmanned campaign. We’re adequately resourced right now,” replied Vice Admiral Cooper.
Q: What is Task Force 59’s “Deterrence value?” Any Over-the-Horizon capabilities?
A: “We simply can see further [by using TF 59’s UAS, UUV, and USV integration]. The presence just looks a little different [than just using a single UAS drone, for example].” The goal is to have unmanned systems nested with five or six other unmanned systems. [Think smaller drones (swarms) launching from larger drones].