Navy Secretary Points to Disruptive Tech for Solving Shipbuilding Crisis

Amid intense criticism of shipbuilding delays, the U.S. Navy has issued a roadmap aimed at steering the programs in the right direction. 

The Navy is under pressure to improve performance and capacity after an internal review uncovered that most of its top programs are delayed by years. Plans to delay buying some ships and retire existing programs received harsh scrutiny during a Congressional hearing this week, according to reports. 

Challenges in Shipbuilding

Factors cited for the shipbuilding crisis include labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, and growing technological complexity. The Pentagon is growing increasingly concerned about the Department of Defense’s ability to maintain technological superiority and fleet readiness compared to near-peer competitors like China. 

Faster Adoption

Technology’s role in national defense is central to the roadmap. In it, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro emphasizes the need to fast track integrations and improve collaboration. The strategy calls for an agile development approach and earlier engagements in partnerships. 

“Maritime warfare is unforgiving to those who lack agility and who do not adapt to new learning and technologies,” the summary says. “Naval S&T must reduce warfighter risk by partnering earlier, experimenting more deliberately and ultimately scaling to put technology in their hands sooner.”

Focus Areas

The strategy prioritizes several areas for naval science and technology, including:

Artificial Intelligence

“The warfighting capabilities enabled by AI already have a wide-ranging impact on naval warfare. While war is an intrinsically human endeavor, AI strikes at the very strengths and critical aspects humans bring to warfare by assessing and deciding orders of magnitude faster than the human mind. Naval S&T must contribute to the fundamental sciences of realizing AI. However, more importantly, we need to apply AI as a tool across multiple disciplines and naval S&T challenges, from battle management aids to AI-designed materials, assured networks, and wherever our ingenuity—and AI’s—takes us.”

Quantum Computing

“Quantum science will play a crucial role in naval warfare by enabling breakthrough technologies such as faster computation speeds, novel networks, quicker decision-making, improved accuracy in position, navigation, and timing more reliable information, robust encryption, and innovative sensors.”

Autonomous Systems

 Autonomous systems enable us to address threats at a lower cost per unit of capability and expand our global reach. We will be able to operate in extreme environments by reducing warfighter support requirements and building highly synchronized formations leveraging man-machine teaming.”

Human & Biological Systems

“Biotechnology has the potential to revolutionize naval operations by producing new technologies using living systems, such as developing new high-performance materials for maritime applications,  generating and storing energy, increasing energy efficiency, biomanufacturing of critical materials, biological sensors, and adaptive systems.”

Smart Manufacturing

“We will explore new ways to transition critical technology and knowledge to industry so they can apply business acumen to manufacture and deliver the technology that contributes to maritime dominance at scale.”

The strategy also lists naval aerospace, directed energy/kinetic systems, C5ISR/Naval Space, materials/electronics, naval engineering, ocean/atmosphere/space, power & energy, and undersea systems are focus areas. 

Rapid Adoption 

The strategy calls for fast deployment of emerging technologies to stay on the leading edge. This suggests a need for agile development practices to integrate and adapt tech for naval use cases. 

“While war is an intrinsically human endeavor, AI strikes at the very strengths and critical aspects humans bring to warfare by assessing and deciding orders of magnitude faster than the human mind,” the report says. 

War Gaming

The Navy will explore digital twinning future technologies before they’re ready for the physical world. They’ll adopt an adversarial approach, known as “red teaming,” to critically assess and challenge the Navy’s technology developments, strategies, and defense mechanisms. 

The report says: “We will integrate experimentation and war gaming with this strategy’s research efforts. Using FA guidance, we will conduct and participate in experiments that solve complex Fleet and Force technical problems tied to the Naval Implementation Framework, Navy Force Design, USMC Force Design, and the Commandant’s Planning Guidance.”

Read the Strategy Doc

Read the full roadmap, “Naval Science and Technology Strategy,” here

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