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Throughout May 2023 the US Navy (USN) has been experimenting with the integration of various unmanned systems into fleet operations during its Integrated Battle Problem 2023 (IBP-23) exercise, which is led by the US Pacific Fleet and run by the USN’s 3rd Fleet off the coast of southern California.

Among the unmanned systems that have taken part was a company-owned General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) MQ-9B SeaGuardian unmanned aerial vehicle UAV), which was used in support of USN helicopter anti-submarine warfare (ASW) manoeuvres, the company announced on 18 May 2023.

During a two-day event involving MH-60R Seahawk aircraft from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadrons (HSMs) 38, 49, 71, and 75 flown out of Naval Air Station North Island, the MQ-9B demonstrated manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) concepts while conducting co-operative ASW manoeuvres over the Southern California Offshore ASW Range.

After the MH-60s dropped sonobuoys to detect a mobile training target, a combined SeaGuardian and MH-60R teaming concept was employed to expeditiously correlate and locate the target. Tactical reports (TACREPs) were then transmitted to Commander, Task Force (CTF) 34 Theater ASW Center at Naval Station Pearl Harbor via the MQ-9B crew. The CTF then directed a co-ordinated constructive ‘kill’ of the simulated submarine with notional torpedoes dropped from the MH-60s. The ASW payload on the SeaGuardian uses the latest version of General Dynamics Mission Systems’ Sonobuoy Processor.

An MQ-9B SeaGuardian UAV flying over Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado during Integrated Battle Problem 21 in April 2021. An MQ-9B was back for this year’s exercise to conduct co-operative ASW manoeuvres with USN Seahawk helicopters. (Photo: US Navy)

“These advanced tactics, techniques, and procedures utilizing MUM-T further reinforce the advantages to unmanned aircraft in combat with less risk to force,” GA-ASI Vice President of DoD Strategic Development Patrick Shortsleeve was quoted as saying in a company press release.

IBP-23 is focused on proving the concept of using unmanned systems “to help maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific”, according to the US Navy Press Office.

Other unmanned systems that participated in IBP-23 included the Sea Hunter and Seahawk medium-displacement unmanned surface vessels, RQ-20 Puma tactical UAVs, and the MANTAS T-38 Devil Ray unmanned surface vehicle.

The IBP-23 exercise is the third time GA-ASI’s MQ-9B has supported this annual event, which began in 2021. The exercises generate warfighting advantages for the fleet by providing the operational environment to work through tactics, techniques, procedures, and command and control to refine and enhance warfighting capabilities.

Peter Felstead