15 February 2017
Two months after the Chinese military briefly detained a U.S. Navy unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV), the service is taking a close look at how to ensure its unmanned maritime systems do not reveal secrets if they fall into the wrong hands in the future.
Capt. Jonathan Rucker, program manager for Unmanned Maritime Systems, said the Navy is studying how an unmanned vehicle can "get wiped" of sensitive information if it gets captured. While many manned systems have such security procedures, they are often initiated by their crews, something that unmanned systems, by definition, do not have onboard.
A rendering of the Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle which will be deployed from the littoral combat ship to sweep mines. Illustration: General Dynamics.
"It's definitely a different challenge because you now have to rely on the system to know.that it's been compromised and then go through and carry out the procedures that you want it to do," Rucker told Defense Daily after speaking at an American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) symposium in Arlington, Va.
The Chinese military returned the two-meter-long UUV after snatching it from international waters in the South China Sea. Used to gather military oceanographic data, such as ocean temperature, salinity and depth information, the UUV is part of a fleet of Littoral Battlespace Sensing-Gliders and was built by Teledyne Technologies [TDY] Teledyne Webb Research. A Pentagon spokesman said in December that the returned UUV appeared to be in "good working order based on an initial physical inspection."
Rucker said a feature to protect sensitive information, such as software, will be required on the future Extra Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (XLUUV), for which the Navy plans to issue a final request for proposals as early as Feb. 17.
Contractors will have 90 days to submit bids for the XLUUV, and the Navy hopes to award up to two design contracts by the end of fiscal year 2017. The Navy will later pick one contractor to build five vehicles.
The XLUUV will be greater than 54 inches in diameter and have long range and endurance. It could support multiple missions, including mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.