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Unmanned Systems and the Re-emergence of Naval Expeditionary Capabilities

George Galdorisi
RUSI Defence Systems, 1 December 2017
Maritime Forces, Technology
As part of a renewed focus on naval expeditionary operations, the United States, United Kingdom and other nations are testing a variety of unmanned systems to enhance the capabilities and cost effectiveness of amphibious forces against future global threats

As the ground campaigns in the Middle East wind down, the United States remains globally engaged, especially in South East Asia. As the US military meets its worldwide commitments, its naval expeditionary forces in particular will most likely continue to prove extremely useful in dealing with a wide range of contingencies ranging from counterinsurgency support to state-on-state deterrence tasks. As part of this strategic realignment, the United States is, in the words of a former commandant of the US Marine Corps, ‘returning to its amphibious roots.’ In the UK, the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, alongside the Royal Marines and Royal Fleet Auxiliary aim to provide a similar sort of capability with global reach in the future.

US Navy/US Marine Corps expeditionary strike groups, built around large deck amphibious ships such as the USS America and USS Wasp, make up a significant percentage of the fleet and are forecast to maintain this as the Navy plans its future force. The reasons for this focus on amphibious vessels are clear. In addition to acting as a conventional deterrent and warfighting capability, these naval expeditionary formations have been used extensively for a wide-array of missions short of war, from anti-piracy patrols, to personnel evacuation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. In future, there is little reason to think that they will not be needed to do the same kind of ‘heavy lifting’ all over the world.

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