Spartan Scout Brings Manned Combat Vehicles a Step Closer to their End

In May, the US Navy reported a second successful live-fire testing for the Spartan Scout, a new unmanned surface vehicle, an advance concept technology demonstrator sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and DARPA. The first successful test-firing had occurred in November, 2004. In the ACTD, Spartan is specifically focused on demonstrating the military utility of modular, multi-mission USVs as extended sensor and weapons platforms conducting Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR)/Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA), Precision Strike, and Shallow Water Undersea Warfare (USW) missions in support of Joint Task Force, Battle Group, Amphibious, and Sealift operations. The May tests were conducted at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD, in April, during which a remotely controlled, high-fidelity, electro-optically sighted .50-caliber machine gun was fired while the Scout moved across open water. The Scout is being developed as a low-cost means of extending a maritime patrol areas and providing anti-terrorism force protection (AT/FP) for ships and other fleet assets The 21-foot-long Scout has a payload capability of up to 5,000 pounds and is intended to go aboard the future Littoral Combat Ship – part of a quickly growing array of unmanned systems to be carried aboard the LCS. Other systems to be aboard the LCS include Army Non-Line of Sight Launching System Missile and a 33-foot rigid hull inflatable boat sporting a lightweight 30mm gun.

The Scout is also to provide the foundation for RHIB-based minesweeping and anti-submarine warfare, another innovation. Considering how difficult it is for a human gunner to hit a target with a .50 cal machine gun fired from a moving small boat, the success of the recent robot gun firing is doubly impressive.

A prototype Spartan Scout was successfully launched and remotely operated in the Persian Gulf from USS Gettysburg (CG-64) in December, 2003. The Spartan prototype used was configured with an electro-optical/infrared surveillance turret, surface search radar, a digital imagery transmission suite, and an unmanned command and control suite. The version of the Spartan Scout used aboard Gettysburg was the ISR Spiral - Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance version, which allows the establishment of a Recognized Maritime Picture (RMP) around the task force, providing real time surveillance.

Near future Scout tests are to include demonstrations of Mine Warfare (MIW) capabilities and Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW) capabilities.

A spokesperson for the Navy said that besides the recent testing at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Scout had also been undergoing unspecified testing in Singapore (a location which certainly piques one’s curiosity). This summer will see several technical tests run on the core systems and mission modules to support on-going development. The next set of operational tests will be during the Military Utility Assessment tests the will begin toward the end of calendar 2005 and will be conducted by the US Third Fleet.

While it is yet undetermined how many Spartan Scout systems the Navy will obtain, the current ACTD is budgeted at approximately $50M. Aside from having tested the Scout aboard USS GETTYSBURG, the Navy is developing a timetable (along with the numbers) to field the capability as soon as possible, based upon available resources. The spokesperson indicated that the Navy has been very favorably impressed with testing so far.

One of a number of unmanned platforms now in development, the Spartan Scout allows a look into a near future in which a large number of hazardous missions – perhaps the majority – are performed by unmanned systems. The US Air Force recently horrified its flight crew community by briefly sponsoring several TV and print ads in which today’s video game savvy teenagers were being encouraged to envision themselves a few years down the road wearing a warrant officer’s insignia, dressed in flight suits, sitting behind a bank of impressive video displays, remotely piloting Air Force UAVs on exotic-looking missions. The latest testing simply reinforces the US Navy’s forecast of several years ago in which it noted that as many as one-third of all military tactical aviation missions could be unmanned within the next ten years. LCS, DD(X), and CVN-21 are all being designed with just one-third the crew size of their immediate predecessors. The early 21st century – just 100 years after the inventions of the airplane, the aircraft carrier, and the tank -- is clearly shaping-up as the first time in 10,000 years of recorded history in which soldiers and sailors will, in large numbers, be removed from the front line of the battlefield.

The Spartan Scout UCAV has been favorably impressing the US Navy in testing.