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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 Branch.

Working in 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."

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