Saildrone Welcomes Congressman Rob Wittman to California

Rep. Wittman of Virginia visited Saildrone HQ to talk about how small USVs can support US maritime defense efforts.

Rep. Rob Wittman (left) and Saildrone Founder and CEO Richard Jenkins (right) at Saildrone headquarters in Alameda, CA, on August 30, 2022.

Saildrone was excited to have Congressman Rob Wittman (VA) visit our Alameda, CA, headquarters this week to see firsthand the efforts being made to enhance US national security using small uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs). 

Congressman Wittman serves on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) where he oversees Navy acquisition as the Ranking Member of the Seapower Subcommittee. The Congressman is an advocate for a robust Naval fleet and a healthy domestic manufacturing and shipbuilding industry, as well as using proven uncrewed platforms to improve global maritime security. Congressman Wittman is also an outspoken proponent of leveraging the very best of cutting-edge commercial solutions to enhance Naval capabilities.

Touring Saildrone’s facilities, Congressman Wittman was able to see up-close the unique capabilities Saildrone vehicles provide to the Department of Defense. For the past eight months, Saildrone Explorers have demonstrated how small uncrewed surface vehicles can augment traditional manned assets at scale and for a fraction of the cost. Integrated with the US Navy’s Task Force (TF) 59, Saildrone USVs have sailed more than 27,000 nautical miles and logged over 22,000 operational hours patrolling the US Central Command (CENTCOM) area of operations, returning over 100,000 unique real-time detections enabling enhanced maritime domain awareness.

“As I’ve said before, unmanned technologies must be integrated rapidly into the fleet to support maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance—once they’ve proven they can do the job. The Navy should strongly consider scaling this capability across the fleet as they continue applying lessons learned from Task Force 59. This technology gives us a significant edge over competitors like China and Russia,” said Congressman Wittman.

Rep. Rob Wittman tours Saildrone’s facilities with Saildrone Founder and CEO Richard Jenkins, discussing how small USVs can support US maritime defense efforts.

To date, Saildrone USVs have spent more than 20,000 days at sea and sailed almost one million nautical miles, in oceans around the globe. The vehicles can stay on mission at sea for up to 365 days, continuously sending data back in real-time, without the need for support vessels or physical interactions. Powered by the wind for forward propulsion, Saildrone vehicles provide persistent eyes and ears on the water, with a near-zero operational carbon footprint.

“It is impressive to see how effective Saildrone’s small USVs have been across such a wide range of maritime applications, navigating some of the harshest marine environments on earth,” said Congressman Wittman. “The commercial sector should drive military development, not vice versa - leveraging the proven capabilities of companies like Saildrone, taking commercial off-the-shelf products and modifying them for the Navy is a great way to accelerate our national defense in a cost-efficient and effective way.”

Saildrone’s maritime domain awareness solution uses advanced machine learning (ML). The company’s proprietary ML model, which can automatically recognize and classify objects in real time, was trained on Saildrone’s unique data set of labeled maritime images, containing millions of images captured on missions over the past seven years. Saildrone’s proprietary masthead 360° optical camera system combined with the ML model delivers real-time, visual detection of targets at sea, including “dark” vessels that may not be otherwise transmitting their position. These detection events are then fused with other data sources—radar, AIS, and acoustics—to deliver a fully informed picture of the surrounding maritime domain.

Two Saildrone Explorers operating as part of the US Navy’s Task Force 59, an initiative to rapidly integrate unmanned systems and artificial intelligence into maritime operations in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.

Congressman Wittman is not alone in his enthusiasm for small uncrewed surface vehicles and their potential to be a low-cost force multiplier, enabling rapid and effective response from high-value manned assets.

In April, Saildrone’s founder and CEO, Richard Jenkins, was awarded the Albert A. Michelson Award by the Navy League of the United States. The Albert A. Michelson Award honors a civilian scientist, technical innovator or group, or organization that has demonstrated scientific or technical achievement resulting in a significant improvement in the strength of our maritime forces or the enhancement of our industrial-technology base. Jenkins was presented with the award at the annual Sea Air Space Conference, making him only the sixth individual to receive the prestigious recognition.

“The Saildrone USV is an engineering marvel, and the company that Richard has built around it is transforming how we think about accessing our world’s oceans. Saildrones are a paradigm shift in autonomous maritime capability,” said James F. Guerts, former assistant secretary of the Navy.

Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, speaking on March 28 in an online discussion sponsored by the Washington think tank the Middle East Institute, said using “artificial intelligence to map the waters… detecting when something is unusual—smuggling, illegal fishing, you name it—and then sending the information back to the command center. That process has allowed us to expand our maritime domain awareness two or three times.” According to the Navy League’s magazine, Seapower, Cooper also noted that with more nations using USVs, maritime domain awareness in the region could expand to 30 times the coverage.

In addition to MDA capabilities, Saildrone vehicles are equipped with a suite of meteorological and oceanographic sensors to capture high-resolution weather and climate data. They can also be equipped with echo sounders to measure fish biomass,track marine mammals, and International Hydrographic Organization-compliant ocean mapping down to 23,000 feet, as well as Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers for measuring the speed and direction of ocean currents and an ASVCO2 system for carbon monitoring. The ASVCO2 was designed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA)’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) and integrated into the Saildrone platform through a public-private partnership between Saildrone and NOAA.


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