Wittman Statement on Navy Unmanned Systems Plans

March 18, 2021 – Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) – House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces ranking member – delivered the following opening statement at a subcommittee hearing on “Unmanned Systems of the Department of the Navy.”

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

The Navy and Marine Corps team have a vision of the future and the unmanned campaign plan is a roadmap, of sorts, to get there. I don’t think there is anyone in congress who doesn’t see the obvious benefits of this unmanned, autonomous capability. But, I fear the zeal to deliver the future may lead to waste today.

In my estimation, there are several practical acquisition areas that need to be incorporated into all of these autonomous developments:

1. Fail big, early – We have too many acquisition programs that limp along well past their useful development. For example, the Navy spent $700 million and 16 years on a remote mine hunting system. This failure has endangered our entire mine warfare capability and haunts the Navy five years after its termination. Navy and Marine Corps need to rapidly prototype, assess, and if necessary, terminate developing systems.

2. Start with the end in mind – The Navy needs to develop an unmanned, long range, carrier based, penetrating strike capability. Yet, this nascent UCLASS program was usurped to field a far less capable MQ-25 tanking drone.

3. The commercial sector should drive military development, not vice versa – While the Navy and Marine Corps’ unmanned capabilities are our future, a near term military capability may be elusive. For example, the Navy’s extended range UUV has a limited battery life and needs to recharge often. Furthermore, the Large USV doesn’t possess the engineering plant to provide the desired autonomy. Instead of developing these capabilities, Navy should be leveraging commercial technologies for further military application. I fear that the extended range UUV and the large USV efforts both have the cart before the horse.

4. And, finally, Command and control of unmanned vessels is not essential, it is paramount – The development of unique military requirements needs to be addressed early in the acquisition process. A few fundamental questions need to be answered before we start any new unmanned program: whether a vessel is unmanned or optionally manned; how to provide unmanned command and control; how to implement the law of armed conflict and avoid autonomous incidental damage; and, how to address antitampering, especially if it supports our latest and greatest missile systems in an over the horizon environment. If we can’t answer these basic questions, we should not start serial production of any unmanned program.

There is no doubt that our future relies on our ability to expeditiously develop unmanned, autonomous vehicles. But I will not support a misguided acquisition program that wastes taxpayer resources in an effort to deliver this vision. We need to be realistic in our technology assessments, resolute in our desired end state, and adaptable to delivering key attributes of the vision.

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