The Navy is testing its shark-like 'Ghostswimmer' unmanned underwater vehicle at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek this week. It is one of a handful of programs being brought to life by the Navy's innovative Rapid Innovation Cell. The project is called 'Silent Nemo' and it is aimed to put real-world unmanned tactical capabilities into systems that mimic organic species.

The five foot long, 100-pound Ghostswimmer moves much like a large fish, and has been used to collect data on tides, currents, wakes and weather conditions. Seeing that it appears almost indistinguishable from a large fish or small shark, that it can operate in inches of water or hundreds of feet of water, and it has a very low audible signature, Ghostswimmer is a very attractive capability for a plethora of applications. In the future, a system like it, and others that currently exist, could be used to covertly infiltrate enemy territory and survey enemy actions, patrol for enemy divers, search for obstacles off beaches in preparation for an amphibious landing, locate mines or even attack targets in port.

The Navy's bio-robotic creation can operate for long periods of time, in near silence, autonomously, or it can be attached to a 500' tether. The tether system, although cumbersome, is useful for inspecting ships hulls and other mundane, short-range tasks.

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Although Ghostswimmer clearly has huge tactical potential, the way it is being developed, under the Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC), is even more encouraging. This program takes all too often ignored ideas from the Navy's young leadership and makes them a reality. The whole idea of CRIC is that it encourages creativity and problem solving among junior staff, and it is a clear departure from the seniority-heavy decision making that is increasingly being seen as a hindrance to progress within the USN and the other services as well.

Capt. Jim Loper, department head for Concepts and Innovation, NWDC states:

"This project and others that we are working on at the CRIC are important because we are harnessing the brainpower and talents of junior Sailors... The opportunity for a young Sailor who has a good idea to get that idea heard, and to get it turned into action, is greater now than any other time in our Navy's history... Our mantra is 'you have permission to be creative.' We want our people to go out there and dream big dreams and put them into action."

Although CRIC is clearly a step in the right direction, it remains a relatively small program and many sailors and officers within the Navy will tell you that their biggest gripe is seeing things that can be done more efficiently everyday but having tradition and strong-headed senior leadership standing in the way of positive change. Regardless of this fact, unmanned underwater vehicles that can operate autonomously and that look like the sea life that surrounds them are very logical weapons systems for the Navy to quickly procure, and the way they are doing it is fantastic. Hopefully, over time, such encouragement for innovation will trickle down to the rest of the fleet.

Source: US Navy

Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com