Enemy Mine: Underwater
Drones Hunt Buried Targets, Save Lives
By Amaani Lyle, DoD News,
Defense Media Activity.
Panama City, Florida — (DOD
News) — July 21, 2016 — Covering more than 70 percent of the Earth’s
surface, the maritime landscape can be vast and unforgiving, presenting extremes
in temperature, depth, and hazards.
But the Naval team of physicists, engineers, researchers and
developers at Surface Warfare Center Panama City, Florida, continues to bring
the “force of the future” to today’s warfighters, delving deeper, so to speak,
into underwater counter-mine and irregular warfare technology that saves lives,
ships and dollars.
Nestled along St. Andrew Bay, the Fanselau Coil Facility is a
prominent, two-story, dome-shaped structure lined with towering wooden beams
supporting coils that create a magnetic field -- a setting appearing at once
dated and modern, and somewhat resembling a mad scientist’s dream realized.
The REMUS MK 18 UUV sits mounted on a
support system made of wood and fiberglass composites
One of only two such complexes of its type in the world, the
facility was developed in the mid-1980s to simulate Earth’s inconsistent
magnetic fields, which enables scientists to measure magnetic effects on
unmanned underwater vehicles and characterize foreign sensors over a vast area.
“Since we can simulate the magnetic field of anywhere on the
Earth, we can actually measure its effect on something like a UUV when it’s
operating in that location,” said Randy Horne, NSWC technical program manager at
the coil facility.
Why Use UUVs?
A Remote Environmental Monitoring Unit, or REMUS, MK 18, is
mounted at the center of the dome. The REMUS is an interoperable, programmable
UUV that processes and transmits critical test data at the magnetic measurement
facility and offers real-life seafloor mapping and buried target detection data
to explosive ordnance disposal personnel and operators.
According to the Naval Research Center web site, “naval mine
strikes are the root cause of 77 percent of U.S. Navy ship casualties occurring
since 1950.” In years past, modern warships such as the guided missile frigate
USS Samuel B. Roberts, the guided missile cruiser USS Princeton and the
amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli sustained severe damage due to mines in the
Beyond the dome, while the contractor-developed MK 18 is
currently deployed in Bahrain, the NSWC Panama City team organically created the
specialized detection sensor integration software it uses today to develop and
refine littoral tactics, identify vulnerabilities and make the vehicles
autonomous, Horne said. “It’s a collaboration [among] industry, academia, the
National Research Laboratory, as well as a number of Navy and applied physics
laboratories in the [United States].”
Randy Horne, program manager of the Naval Surface Warfare
Center Panama City Division
The use of UUVs is hardly new, but in the decades since their
addition to the fleet, Navy scientists have sought to expand their use through a
modular interface and software that can locate submerged wrecks and obstacles --
and even locate and digitally document underwater archeological sites -- with a
solid foundation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
One objective for magnetic testing in conjunction with the
REMUS program is to equip the UUV with “smart” technology, which Horne said is
progressing quickly, and moving closer to enhancing the systems with
decision-making abilities without the need for a pre-programmed path.
“It’s a fleet system and will be all-military in its
operation,” Horne noted. “And it’s going to progress far beyond where it is now.”
More UUVs Mean Safer Sailors
At the heart of the mission is safety, Horne explained,
adding that an increase and sophistication of UUVs will proportionately reduce
the number of humans necessary to mitigate underwater challenges, whether in
diving with gear or in manned submarines.
“The idea is to get the man out of the minefield,” Horne said.
“The MK 18 and all of these small UUVs are just one of the tools that are used.”
NSWC Panama City's unique geographic location offers
scientists and fleet users distinct training, testing and evaluation
opportunities as the gulf waters replicate Persian Gulf temperatures, depth,
salinity and clarity in relation to sonar performance, thereby offering intended,
real-world environment results.
NSWC, a field activity of the Naval Sea Systems Command,
employs more than 1,300 service members, civilians and contractors, and provides
innovative, technical solutions to complex problems, specifically in the areas
of littoral and expeditionary warfare.
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)