A Viable Ecosystem for Autonomous Maritime Systems — Mike Smith

Inspiration And Insights
3 min readFeb 16, 2024
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Despite a shared end state, each branch of the U.S. military has traditionally enhanced its capacity to integrate Systems of Systems (SoS) independently. However, DoD leadership has endeavored to foster jointness in requirements development and technology evaluation. Open architectures and shared standards have led to increased resonance between services. Rapid acquisition processes are beginning to accelerate access to cutting-edge technologies, facilitating the seamless incorporation of unmanned systems into existing frameworks. Digital interoperability initiatives are establishing robust communication networks for real-time data exchange across platforms. Increasing onboard processing power is poised to enable rapid dispersion of analysis resulting in more resilient networks. While these investments in development and procurement will ultimately enable the implementation of Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control (CJADC2), there is much to be done in the near-term.

CJADC2 serves as a pivotal framework, aimed at enhancing the military’s overall effectiveness and agility in a rapidly evolving, highly contested battlespace. It builds on the historical arc of netcentric warfare, enabled by the emergence of technologies that transcend operational domains. Developments in laser communications and power transmission blur traditional boundaries allowing for seamless connectivity from seabed to space. The proliferation of network nodes, particularly autonomous systems, is essential, as emphasized by Metcalfe’s Law, which loosely states that the value of a network is proportional to the number of connected nodes. Cost-effective sensor proliferation relies on connecting autonomous systems produced at scale and low cost (the defining factor).

For the Navy, integrating uncrewed platforms is a strategic imperative — one that presents a significant opportunity for the private sector. Aligning investment plans with the Navy’s unmanned systems strategy allows companies to position themselves as indispensable partners in shaping the future of defense technology. The question is where and how any particular company opts to compete.

Given the volume of technology demonstrations across all services (including OSD), there is a high likelihood that a wide range of platforms will be procured — many with bespoke features. One clear role is that of platform provider. Another involves the development of very low SWaP-C mission systems and sensors. A third is that of systems or platform integrator (if not subsumed by the previous roles). Yet another is as a contract or licensed manufacturer of the platform or sensor. Companies will need to assess competitive positioning and core strengths to determine their role in the value chain.

The US DoD and A&D industry must collaborate in accelerating technology development through non-traditional procurement channels. Over decades, rapid acquisition mechanisms such as Other Transaction Authority and Middle-Tier Acquisition, have facilitated rapid prototyping, technology development, and demonstrations. However, meeting the demands of CJADC2 will require crossing the proverbial “chasm” where economic certainty outweighs commercial risk of investment to achieve scaled production. We will need the presence of a stable demand signal to spur industry investment which in turn will result in rapid innovation. Multi-Year Procurement has had a stabilizing effect on the industrial base supporting large capital programs. Exploring simpler mechanisms for acquiring smaller, high-rate production systems could yield similar benefits.

By providing situational awareness and deployable effects across vast geographies, CJADC2 will play a vital role in maintaining maritime dominance. Combining expertise resident within the Navy and industry will enable the introduction and rapid maturation of technologies that underpin autonomous system development. When coupled with innovative rapid acquisition models, autonomous systems will proliferate within the fleet and unlock the operational advantages promised under the Pentagon’s CJADC2 concept.

About Mike Smith: a tested senior executive and U.S. Navy veteran with over 20 years of achieving organizational excellence in the Aerospace and Defense (A&D) industry, Mike is renowned for driving over $14 billion in new value creation. A mission-driven growth leader, he specializes in expanding A&D companies into new markets, optimizing margins, and fostering shared access to defense technology. Mike is dedicated to fostering collaborative success and propelling collective growth through purpose-driven leadership and ground-breaking strategic thinking.

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