WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy tested what one commander described as a combination of “unmanned and unmanned” sea and air capabilities in a Pacific Fleet demonstration known as Integrated Battle Problem 23.1.

During the exercise, which began May 1 off the coast of California and runs through Friday, a V-BAT drone made by Shield AI was launched from a Leidos Seahawk medium displacement unmanned surface vessel, according to Cmdr. Jerry Daley, the leader of Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One.

IBP 23.1 “gave operators more of a hands-on experience with a longer list and more-diverse list of unmanned systems at sea and in a combat environment,” Daley told reporters May 11. “It was predominantly, if not exclusively, all unmanned systems for this event, which is a little bit different, in contrast from IBP 21, where it was more manned and unmanned.”

The latest trials, he added, represent the “next step in the progression of integrating unmanned systems into fleet operations across the continuum, under the sea, on the surface and in the air.”

Competition between the U.S. and China is pushing the spotlight onto naval supremacy, especially in the Indo-Pacific. The vast region, home to more than half the world’s population and some of its largest ports, is considered by the Biden administration to be critical to U.S. interests.

The Navy is banking on uncrewed technologies to beef up its presence, whether that’s overall size and international distribution or with specific capabilities, such as surveillance, targeting and jamming. A recent update to the chief of naval operations’ Navigation Plan, a strategic-vision-style document, included an outline of a fleet comprising about 373 manned ships and 150 uncrewed vessels, Defense News reported.

Integrated Battle Problem, now in its second iteration, allows the Pacific Fleet to evaluate uncrewed machinery and discover their best applications, Daley said. Among other assets tested were the Sea Hunter medium displacement unmanned surface vessel and the RQ-20 Puma drone.

The first IBP exercise was held in 2021. At the time, the Navy said uncrewed developments were “game-changers” and were motivating a “rethink” of how the service and sailors execute their tasks.

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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