KEY WEST, Florida –
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet demonstrated unmanned air and surface capabilities from expeditionary fast transport USNS Burlington (T-EPF 10) during the command’s Hybrid Fleet Campaign Event (HFCE) in Key West Oct. 4-13, 2023.
This is the most recent event in U.S. 4th Fleet’s campaign to operationalize cutting edge technologies. After successful rollout of the Campaign at UNITAS in July 2023 and the beginning of operation WINDWARD STACK in September, the Science and Technology event in Key West this past week focused on the evaluation of unmanned systems in advanced kill chains, contested littoral operations, survivability, and sustainment at sea. It served as both a proving ground for emerging technologies and an opportunity for senior leaders to see for themselves the capabilities of systems that could support the hybrid fleet.
“One of the best ways to change our force is to rapidly operationalize new technologies, new systems, and new tactics, techniques, and procedures,” said Adm. Lisa Franchetti, Vice Chief of Naval Operations. “Whether you’re talking about artificial intelligence, cyber, unmanned platforms, directed energy, or hypersonic missiles, we are on the cusp of technological breakthroughs that are going to define future conflict.”
“This week’s technology evaluation event will push boundaries and risk failure in order to allow us to evaluate unmanned technology and then move to operationalize that technology to inform the hybrid fleet,” Rear Adm. Jim Aiken, Commander U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (USNAVSOUTH) & U.S. 4th Fleet, said in advance of the event. “We have many events scheduled and in some of those events we will win, and in some of them we will learn. In both cases, the Hybrid Fleet will be informed, and the Navy will continue to push forward at the speed of technology.”
The campaign to inform the hybrid fleet calls for the combination of manned and unmanned systems to allow U.S. 4th Fleet to execute its larger missions of defending the southern approaches to the United States, countering malign activity in the region with our partners, and supporting the detection and monitoring of illicit trafficking in the region.
“Broad partnership across DoD and industry partners has allowed 4th Fleet to mature operational capabilities rapidly fostering innovation and providing informed recommendations to the parties involved in creating the Disruptive Capabilities Office,” said Dr. Chris Heagney, the Naval Air Systems Command Fleet/Force Advisor to USNAVSOUTH/4th Fleet.
In April 2023 at the Navy League of the United States’ annual Sea Air Space Symposium, Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Honorable Carlos Del Toro and then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday announced that USNAVSOUTH/4th Fleet would operationalize hybrid fleet operations. A key detail in SECNAV and CNO’s vision was that 4th Fleet would not stand up a separate task force like U.S. 5th Fleet did in Bahrain in 2021, but would develop the hybrid fleet from inside the staff already in place.
“This technology evaluation event is a continuation of the campaign we began in April,” said Cmdr. David Edwards, USNAVSOUTH/4th Fleet’s technology and innovation director. “We evaluate these technologies in focused events like this, then operationalized the technology quickly to fulfill operational requirements in the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility (AOR). While we operate these systems to fulfil the 4th Fleet mission, the evaluation continues over months and years, not just hours and days. Those operational evaluations inform future acquisitions to ensure the Navy is ready to fight and win with these technologies.
HFCE was 4th Fleet’s largest technology event yet with 305 participants including VCNO and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea and 26 other U.S. government distinguished visitors, 10 foreign partners, 18 industry partners, and 47 Department of Defense Commands participating.
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet supports U.S. Southern Command’s joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American region.