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Controlling fleets of unmanned vehicles during military missions is a challenging task, especially when dealing with a wide range of autonomous air, ground, surface, and underwater systems.
The UK Navy is establishing a Naval Strike Network, designed to provide the command-and-control backbone for its fleet of unmanned systems. The innovation entailed in the project is that the system will be based on an individual command and control operating multiple platforms.
The Royal Navy’s unmanned vehicles in all domains will be operated by the MAPLE – Maritime Autonomous Platform Exploitation. The program, run through the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Lab (DSTL), started in 2016 and has been proven in many drills and experiments. Now in its fifth iteration, the MAPLE 5 architecture has moved away from the individual command and control of single platforms towards operating multiple platforms and the development of operational concepts at force level.
The intention is to evolve the architecture to be able to implement a broader suite of unmanned systems and make sure it is robust enough to meet the rigors of naval operations.
Any hardware and software employed in the Naval Strike Network will need MAPLE to manage the flow of information so that operators can control unmanned systems from a warship’s combat management system or other workstations used in different ships or shore installations — with control transferable between them.
Until now the introduction of unmanned systems into the UK fleet has been through the purchase of individual platforms with their own C2 consoles, information architecture, communications links and data management systems, which are not integrated into wider naval networks or the combat management systems of warships. MAPLE will serve to integrate these systems fully, according to breakingdefense.com.
By using open standards, DSTL has developed the structure and set principles for the way in which they want to integrate maritime unmanned systems.
The next challenge will be making the system “interoperable by design” with non-UK forces. Ships operate in task groups and as part of coalitions, so the aim of MAPLE 5 is to understand how to control maritime autonomous systems from a wider force rather than an individual ship. To make that happen, different information architectures have to work with each other.