NATO Ships Support Development of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
MEDITERRANEAN SEA A team of 12 scientists and engineers from NATO
Science and Technology Organisation's (STO) Centre for Maritime Research and
Experimentation (CMRE) spent the last several weeks aboard Standing NATO Mine
Countermeasures Group Two (SNMCMG2) flagship HMS Enterprise conducting
experiments with Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) while the group participated
in Spanish and Italian Mine Countermeasures Exercises (MINEX).
The CMRE team
worked primarily with three autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), the BlackCAT
and MUSCLE brought by the CMRE team and the Italian REMUS 100, which is part of
the operational fleet of the Italian Navy. The focus during ESP MINEX was to
demonstrate an autonomous mine hunting capability deployed from a military
platform (a first for CMRE) while conducting additional experimentation to
compare performance with that of legacy assets. During ITA MINEX, the work
concentrated on the experimentation of coordination and communication methods
between the vehicles to clear and render safe a given water column. This
research is funded by NATO Allied Command Transformation, Future Solutions
areas dedicated for multi-unit AUV operations, the team was able to connect the
MUSCLE AUV to the REMUS and BlackCAT AUVs so live mine contacts identified by
MUSCLE could be relayed to the other vehicles for further investigation and
potential countermining as needed. The system as a whole then provides feedback
to human supervisors on the results of the investigation.
"This has been
a win-win for everyone," said Thomas Furfaro, lead scientist with the CMRE team
during ITA MINEX. "CMRE gets to understand more about how our work might be
helpful, with feedback on our approach. Conversely, we have been able to
educate operators about how technology might help lessen, if not solve, some of
the difficulties they encounter in day-to-day operations."
While still in
the research and experimentation phase, AUVs like these may one day be able to
clear underwater mine fields on their own without human operator requirements.
Early efforts at this goal like MCM Denmark include operators to conduct
command and control of the unmanned platforms, but further developments with
AUVs like MUSCLE and BlackCat may one day speed that process along."