The PJ Tatler

Navy Secretary: Drones Won't 'Take the Human Out of the Loop,' But 'Redefine' How Humans Fit

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus warned this morning that if the military doesn’t “do a better job freeing ourselves from ever-expanding bureaucracy,” the Navy’s position as the “world’s preeminent maritime force will surely be in jeopardy.”

Mabus was optimistic about a budget deal being forged in Congress, saying that the Navy needs the stability.

“One of the things that we have been asking for and one of the things that we need desperately is some certainty,” he said. “How much are we going to have? How long is it going to be there?”

Arguing that “continuing resolutions tended to hurt us almost as much or maybe as much as sequester did,” Mabus added that getting rid of the CR would be a “very good thing indeed.”

The secretary was speaking at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s Unmanned Defense conference in Pentagon City, where drone industry and military representatives had gathered for the conference’s maritime day.

Mabus brought a “pretty cool” drone with him — a Kraken, which is a quad copter about three feet across that is low-cost, can be 3D-printed, can operate for “long periods of time under the sea” and can pop up above water to keep operating.

He praised the unmanned technology as not only “the answer to dull, dirty, dangerous jobs,” but as platforms that can be outfitted with offensive and defensive capabilities and “can operate in particularly hostile environments with no plan of returning.”

The Navy secretary stressed that as the technology is being developed, nefarious actors are picking it up as well. “Our adversaries can be nations or not, and they can appear at the speed of connectivity,” he said, adding that they “embrace technology as fast as the world develops it.”

Mabus recently created a deputy secretary of the Navy position for unmanned systems — proof, he said, of the “priority we’re placing on this emerging capability.”

As the technology is developed the Navy will need people with the skills to power those systems that are more complex than those requiring “stick and rotor skills.”

But, Mabus said, a drone-aided naval force doesn’t take the seaman out of the mix.

“We don’t plan to take the human out of the loop, but we do think it’s time to redefine how the human fits into that loop,” he said.

“Looking at these new technologies of autonomy — that’s a force multiplier… if you can put one out on surveillance for months then you don’t have to have a submarine do it.”

He also highlighted refueling as a job for unmanned technology, noting that “using strike fighters as gas trucks — that makes no sense.”

Mabus said the military has to work with industry to “establish standards of compatibility.”

“What was once the stuff of science fiction is now around us in the world.”