A rising tide lifts all boats: AUVSI's Maritime Advocacy Committee celebrates two-year anniversary

A rising tide lifts all boats is more than an aphorism for AUVSI’s Maritime Advocacy Committee (MAC), which today celebrates its two-year anniversary.

Currently made up of 12 members, the committee has spent the last two years setting the federal legislative and regulatory priorities for AUVSI based on input and feedback from its membership, and developing advocacy goals and policy positions to enable all AUVSI members to speak with a unified voice on behalf of the unmanned maritime systems (UMS) industry.

“I have always believed that the success of rapidly integrating (successfully) unmanned systems in the Navy will require a strong symbiotic relationship between the government and industry,” says Brian McKeon, director of Development and chief scientist for the Unmanned Systems Group at Huntington Ingalls Industries.

“I viewed the MAC as the perfect solution to help enable this.”

While the committee launched officially two years ago on July 9, 2018, the seeds for a committee were planted well in advance by then Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Unmanned Systems (DASN UxS) General Frank Kelley. Driven in response to outreach by Gen. Kelley, an informal working group started meeting several years before the committee was formalized during the summer of 2018.

“Gen. Kelley was instrumental to the both the formation and success of the MAC,” says Mike Smitsky, manager of the MAC.

“He came to our CEO early on in his tenure as DASN UxS and stated a willingness to work with industry to identify gaps and help solve complex issues in order to get unmanned systems to the warfighter. The MAC has used Gen. Kelley’s engagement with industry as a template for our work with other Navy and government stakeholders who need industry’s help.”

Finding common ground

The MAC has accomplished a lot in its early years, including participation in numerous high-level government meetings, conducting two policy retreats, and hosting a half-day UMS integration seminar in partnership with the Navy Submarine League which featured two panels of government and industry stakeholders.

For Tom Reynolds, senior director, Business Development at Hydroid (previously a subsidiary of Kongsberg and now part of Huntington Ingalls), and chair of the MAC, the real accomplishments over the last two years have been those things that can’t be quantified.

“The issues will change over time, but our ability to find common ground and raise awareness to ensure that the Navy, the government and our country go in the right direction is what I’m most proud of,” Reynolds tells AUVSI.

“Everyone gets a chance to speak and voice their opinions. We really work hard to make sure that everyone is heard and taken into consideration.”

In his role as chair, Reynolds, a founding member of the committee, seeks to facilitate discussion and ensure fairness and openness. Reynolds says that his job is made easier by members of the committee, who operate without ego and put the needs of the industry first.

“The thing that makes the committee effective is the humility and lack of parochialism among its members,” Reynolds says. “We’ve got a bunch of pros who want to find consensus and don’t get too specific on their own interests. They want to find a common ground. It’s like the old saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Reynolds says that no matter the size of the company or organization, their opinion will always be listened to and valued. With that in mind, his pitch to potential members of the committee is simple.

“I’d tell potential new members to come in and add your voice and raise issues. Let’s see what common ground we can figure out and knock down barriers and help customers more easily access you,” Reynolds says. “Once their voice is added, we’re much stronger as a collective.”

Recent new additions to the committee include SIS and Peraton, with several others in active discussions.

Protecting the U.S. and its sailors

Building off of its accomplishments during its first two years, the MAC wants to continue to ensure that it does everything in its power to equip the Navy with the latest capabilities to ensure that those who put their lives on the line to protect the U.S. are as safe as possible.

“We want to bring to bear this capability set so that the Navy can meet its mission, which is to ensure the protection of the United States and its sailors,” says Wayne Prender, senior vice president of Applied Technologies & Advanced Programs (ATAP) at Textron Systems, and co-chair of the committee. 

The path to get there will require a two-pronged approach, McKeon says; one that will work in Washington directly with lawmakers, and one that will work out at sea to test and improve the capabilities of these technologies.

“In one year, I hope the MAC is able to help lawmakers in understanding that maritime unmanned systems need to be developed and fielded in a crawl-walk-run cadence to optimize the expansion in the use of unmanned systems in the Maritime environment. The current attitude that we have to have a perfect solution makes it difficult to achieve our goals,” McKeon explains.

“In five years, it would be advantageous for the MAC to promote sandboxes that allow industry to be able to test their products in a realistic and relevant environment. Testing for maritime unmanned systems is essential to achieve the reliability desired in unmanned systems.”

Jennifer Roberts, director, Strategic Growth Undersea Systems at Northrop Grumman, echoes those sentiments.

“[We want to] ensure legislators understand the value, reliability, and utility of UMS to defense and scientific users, [and] educate and inform legislators to the point of their advocacy for UMS,” she says.

“[We also want to] assist customers’ in developing test and evaluation standard operating procedures such that UMS can be fielded rapidly.”

The committee has already begun laying the foundation for this important work that they deem critical to moving forward.

“The partnership and relationship we’ve built with the navy and other stakeholders has been extremely important. The best part about what we’re doing is we’re working as an industrial group to identify common areas where we can provide support to ensure we’re moving this technology forward,” Prender says.

“As the unmanned maritime space expands, we’re facilitating awareness and education across a variety of entities. We’re having conversations that will allow for more collaboration outside of the committee and beyond just one service. We’re pushing the UMS industry forward, and doing it in a collaborative fashion.”

If interested in adding your voice to this constantly evolving initiative, contact Mike Smitsky, manager of the MAC, at msmitsky@auvsi.org. A link to the MAC's fact sheet can be found here