Saildrone deployed 10 Voyager uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) from Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West’s Mole Pier and Truman Harbor as part of the US Navy 4th Fleet’s Operation Windward Stack. Once on station, the saildrones will help to improve maritime domain awareness (MDA) by detecting and quantifying targets that pass within range of their sensors.
Operation Windward Stack is a long-term “hybrid fleet” operation of unmanned and manned forces working together, as envisioned by the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations. The operation is part of the US 4th Fleet’s unmanned integration campaign, which provides the Navy a region to experiment with and operate unmanned systems in a permissive environment, develop tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) against near-peer competitors, and refine manned and unmanned command and control (C2) infrastructure, all designed to shift the Navy towards a hybrid fleet.
During the mission, US 4th Fleet operators and watchstanders will conduct tests and coordinate information flow to route the wind and solar-powered saildrones into the Caribbean.
“Operation Windward Stack begins with testing as we integrate the information we receive from the Saildrones into our fleet command center to further increase maritime domain awareness in the US Southern Command Area of Responsibility (AOR),” Lt. Cmdr. John Clark, US 4th Fleet’s Current Operations (COPS) director said in a press release. “We will eventually have the opportunity to work through the command and control of both manned and unmanned forces operating throughout our region.”
The 10-meter (33-foot) Voyager is one of three unmanned platforms designed, manufactured, and operated by Saildrone. Each of the three USV models has been developed to balance mission payload flexibility and endurance. The Voyager is specifically designed to meet maritime defense and security challenges ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance), law enforcement, drug interdiction, border and harbor security, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
The 10 Voyagers will serve as the initial unmanned vehicles in the operation; the Navy plans to add additional USVs, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and manned maritime forces over the next few months to challenge C2 integration further and expand MDA coverage.
“We were able to demonstrate coordinated operations of manned and unmanned forces during UNITAS LXIV, a multinational maritime exercise, but that was for a relatively short time,” said Capt. David Fowler, US 4th Fleet Maritime Operations Center (MOC) director. “With Windward Stack, we’re going to coordinate these operations for many months. That is how we will truly learn what these unmanned vessels can do for us on a day-to-day basis.”
US Naval Forces Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM)/US 4th Fleet supports USSOUTHCOM’s joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central, and South American region.
US Naval Forces Southern Command/US 4th Fleet Public Affairs, “Saildrones Set Sail in Support of U.S. 4th Fleet’s Operation Windward Stack,” press release, navy.mil, September 14, 2023