Unmanned AI Used in 60-nation Maritime Exercise in the Middle East By US Navy

Unmanned AI Used in 60-nation Maritime Exercise in the Middle East By US Navy

As part of an essential exercise in the Middle East, the U.S. Navy has begun testing unmanned vehicles and artificial intelligence for the first time to practice operating together.

In January, the U.S. Fifth Fleet created Task Force 59, an organization that falls under the purview of its 5th Fleet. The purpose was to experiment and demonstrate unmanned and artificial intelligence in marine environments. 

The United States presented Task Force 59 with its most significant opportunity yet as part of the joint International Maritime Exercise 2022 and Cutlass Express 2022, which will take place from January 31 to February 17.

We'll participate in missions like maritime domain awareness, sea control, maritime security, mine countermeasures, and other stuff with around 9,000 people, 50 ships, and 80 unmanned systems.

They cover the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, the Red Sea, and the North Indian Ocean, all areas of operations for both the 5th and 6th Fleet. There are four exercise task groups: north, east, south, and west. 

Task Force X, a fifth task force in the exercise, covers unmanned and artificial intelligence systems in practice and is partnering with the other four so unmanned systems can participate in all the scenarios.

Participants in the naval exercise include Israel and Saudi Arabia, two countries that haven't normalized diplomatic relations, despite some neighbors formally recognizing Israel under the Abraham Accords.
On Feb. 2 of this year, Commander Tom McAndrew, the exercise planner for unmanned systems and AI integration, told reporters that machine learning and AI would be integrated into most events.

A significant theme is AI and machine learning in maritime domain awareness, though he couldn't give specifics out of security reasons. The commander of a task group might have access to a lot of imagery - from sensors aboard ships and aircraft, unmanned systems, public access cameras, social media, etc. - but the images alone can't give a clear picture of what's happening in the area. 

You can use AI and ML tools to collect the images and process them into something the commander can use.

Additionally, he cited search and rescue as a topic covered and could take advantage of unmanned systems and AI. As unmanned systems are generally faster and more accurate than manned platforms, primarily when fielded in large numbers and employed continuously, McAndrew said, some can assist the rescuer until a manned ship or aircraft arrives.

While not all participating nations and organizations are bringing unmanned systems, they will all be exposed to them and see how they can contribute to routine maritime missions. 

According to a Navy news release, ten nations are bringing unmanned aerial, surface, and underwater systems.

During the same call, Captain Kenyatta Martin, the lead exercise planner for International Maritime Exercise, said the drill is held at a non-classified level so all participants can practice sending and receiving data. He said forthcoming functions or exercises might include unmanned systems and AI tools in the following years.

Martin says the planning started in December 2020. The unmanned aspect wasn't added until about halfway through the planning process, so the fundamentals of the exercise, its organization, and the scenarios weren't designed for the new technology. The unmanned system and AI tools fit in perfectly, he said.

When we incorporated the unmanned systems in the exercise, there was quite a bit of interest from our partner nations to join — not just on a level of curiosity [and observing only], but with a level of integration and participation, knowing that these unmanned systems and AI were part of our force," Davis said.