What's next in naval technology?
Sea Hunter (bottom left): Photo courtesy of Chief Petty Officer Shannon Renfroe, U.S. Navy. Unmanned underwater vehicle (bottom right): Photo courtesy of Nauticus Robotics. Hypersonic system (middle right): Rendering courtesy of AFRL and Leidos. Illustration: Chris Gash
It’s the largest expo of the year for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and offers a glimpse into how these services will fight the wars of the future.
To learn more, we interviewed retired Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe, Leidos Vice President and Strategic Account Executive for the Navy and Marines, and his predecessor, retired Rear Admiral Nevin Carr.
Here’s what they shared:
Q: What are the U.S. Navy’s biggest technological challenges today?
Admiral Pandolfe: “Our Navy wasn’t really challenged on the high seas for several decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but that’s now changed. Weapons reach further out to sea. Our adversaries have modernized their fleets. The benign operating environment we’ve come to expect won’t be the same going forward. It’s a time of change and innovation to ensure the prosperity of our nation and defend it if needed.”
Admiral Carr: “It’s all about decisive advantage. No military service wants a fair fight. Right now, there’s a perception that China has a lot of advantages, but we think we do too. The big challenge is to maintain those advantages and help our Sailors get the most capability they can out of the fleet they have and the disruptive technologies that are coming.”
Q: What makes Sea-Air-Space the best format to showcase these disruptive technologies?
Admiral Pandolfe: “It’s the premier annual event that brings together Navy and Marine Corps leadership, senior military officers from across branches and senior civilian leadership in the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). More than anything, it’s an opportunity for these services to see how their guidance is being translated into corporate efforts to support them.”
Admiral Carr: “There’s a great need for the Navy and its industry partners to communicate, both to help the services appreciate what industry can do and to help inform industry decisions about where to place their research dollars. That two-way dialogue is critically important, and this event provides the single best opportunity to have that exchange.”
Q: Leidos will showcase its Common-Hypersonic Glide Body at the event. What’s driving the company’s investment in hypersonic weapons?
Admiral Carr: “Hypersonic weaponry is the next frontier of strike weapons. Hypersonics by definition fly five times the speed of sound. When you can do that, especially with an unpredictable flight path, it’s very hard to counter. When we talk about delivering advantage, hypersonics give you obvious advantage, and it’s something you’d want to use against very important, high-value targets.”
“One of the main challenges with hypersonics is because they fly so fast, they’re exposed to huge temperature changes, especially for the portion of time they’re in the atmosphere. You have to manage all of that heat to prevent damaging the electronics inside the body. It’s hard science, but Leidos often operates at the nexus of hard, disruptive science and actual capability. This company has some of the technology to make hypersonics a reality thanks to our Dynetics Group, which currently holds several contracts for hypersonic systems.”
Q: What’s on the horizon in maritime autonomy?
Admiral Pandolfe: “Autonomous vehicles in the air, on the surface and underwater hold the promise of providing greater force density, more nodes in the network and a way to extend sensor reach to broaden the Navy’s horizon to gather information. Autonomy allows you to do that in a manner that minimizes danger to the warfighter. When you get into the higher risk areas of the world, ideally, you’ll have as few Sailors, partners and allies as possible exposed to those threats.”
Admiral Carr: “We talk a lot about Sea Hunter and Seahawk, which are among the only Navy vessels today that are truly autonomous. Many others have elements of autonomy in them but have Sailors onboard to operate non-autonomous parts. Our vessels are designed from the keel up to be completely autonomous. We actually think of them less as ships and more as satellites that swim instead of orbit. What’s next is the maturing of these systems and their operational use. We’re looking at innovative models to get these capabilities to the fleet rapidly like the contractor-owned and operated model Leidos is using for its ISR planes to help the U.S. Army.”
Q: What are some of the latest technology developments in undersea warfare?
Admiral Carr: “Undersea autonomous vehicles are getting more reliable and robust, and we’re starting to see more and more actual use of them. They’re starting to be seen and treated as real capabilities instead of just science projects. This is an important area for Leidos, and we recently won a large contract to build the Navy’s medium-sized unmanned undersea vehicle (MUUV), making us a significant provider of UUVs for the Navy. Just like the dawn of aviation, we’re going to see hundreds of variations of these vessels adapted for various missions.”
Q: Overall, how encouraged are you by the technological progress you see from the Navy?
Admiral Pandolfe: “Although our potential adversaries are modernizing, I don’t think we should lose sight of the fact that the U.S. has the world’s finest Navy. It’s very experienced with superb equipment, and I certainly wouldn’t trade places with any other naval force in the world today. That said, in order to keep it relevant and capable of delivering the performance we need, the emerging technologies we’re showcasing at Sea-Air-Space are really important. I think we’re making progress in the right areas and there’s a sense of urgency to deliver for the Navy what they need as soon as we can. I’m very proud to be part of this effort.”
Leidos is a 4-star sponsor of Sea-Air-Space, hosted by the Navy League, a nonprofit organization that supports sea services including the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
If you’re planning to attend the show, please visit Leidos at booth #1623.
Please contact the Leidos media relations team for more information.