USN uncrewed systems exercise demonstrates lethal munitions use from USVs

TF59 USV live firing
A Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System launches munitions from a MARTAC T-38 Devil Ray unmanned surface vehicle, attached to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command’s Task Force 59, during Exercise Digital Talon in the Arabian Gulf, Oct. 23. U.S. Naval Forces Central Command recently completed Exercise Digital Talon, demonstrating the ability of unmanned platforms to pair with traditionally crewed ships in “manned-unmanned teaming” to identify and target hostile forces at sea. Then, using munitions launched from another unmanned platform, engaged and destroyed those targets. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Justin Stumberg)

The US Navy Central Command’s (NAVCENT’s) Gulf-based Task Force 59 (TF59) has conducted a live-firing exercise that included test firing weapons from uncrewed surface vessels (USVs), NAVCENT said in a statement released on 2 November.

Under Exercise ‘Digital Talon’, which took place in late October in international waters across US 5th Fleet’s area of responsibility (AOR) around the Arabian peninsula, the firings were conducted as part of advancing the lethality and combat capability of USVs, the statement said. It noted that the firings “constituted the first use of lethal munitions from USVs in the Middle East region”.

TF59, which was established under US 5th Fleet command in September 2021, is tasked with integrating uncrewed systems and artificial intelligence into maritime operations.

In the exercise, USVs were paired with crewed ships in ‘crewed/uncrewed teaming’ to identify and target simulated hostile forces at sea, the statement said. Then, demonstrating dispersed lethality and disaggregated command and control, another USV was tasked to engage and destroy the target using live rounds.

Multiple firing events were conducted during the exercise. According to the statement, a MARTAC T38 Devil Ray USV carrying the Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System “successfully scored direct hits each time”.

“During ‘Digital Talon’, we took a significant step forward and advanced our capability to the next level – beyond just maritime domain awareness, which has been a traditional focus with TF59,” Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, Commander US NAVCENT and US 5th Fleet, said in the statement. “We have proven these uncrewed platforms can enhance fleet lethality. In doing so, we are strengthening regional maritime security and enhancing deterrence against malign activity.”

Going forward, Vice Adm Cooper said he expected to see this capability develop in scale and impact, with future exercises also expanding the weapons arsenal of combat-capable uncrewed systems.

US 5th Fleet’s AOR covers the Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, northern parts of the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea; this area encompasses the Straits of Hormuz, the Bab-el-Mandeb straits, and the Suez Canal maritime choke points.

by Dr. Lee Willett