by NUWC Newport Division Public Affairs

Consistent with the theme of Human Machine Interaction (HMI), the 2018 Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) at NUWC Newport Division explored ways in which science and technologies that enable or achieve coordinated detection, localization, tracking, and/or targeting for undersea, surface, and air environments enable human trust in machines to support operational decision-making.

NUWC Newport Division hosted ANTX HMI 18 August 29-31 at its Narragansett Bay Test Facility with the main goals of collaboration, innovation, and obtaining fleet feedback.

It was the largest ANTX hosted at NUWC Newport Division in terms of the number of participants, vehicles, and technologies since the event began in 2015. The exercise involved more than 55 participants from industry, academia, and government as well as fleet personnel who provided critical feedback to participants.

NUWC Newport Division partnered with Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (CNMOC), located in Stennis, Miss. CNMOC conducted operational exercises as part of ANTX throughout the summer. Operational teams worked with partners to complete numerous vignettes, including human-machine optimization for seafloor mapping with industry partners, wide area search with the Naval Oceanographic Office, intelligence preparation of the operational environment (IPOE) for naval special warfare with the Naval Oceanography Special Warfare Center (NOSWC), and IPOE for mine warfare with the Naval Oceanography Mine Warfare Center.

The NUWC-CNMOC partnership underscores a commitment to understanding and developing the undersea battlespace for both manned and autonomous vehicles. CNMOC has two decades of experience operating more than 20 different unmanned systems that are highly dependent on meteorological and oceanographic conditions for mission success.

“We have to thrive,” said Rear Adm. John Okon, Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command. “Most critical to the Navy and the nation is innovation. The speed to innovate is critical. Long-term strategic competition among nations is most evident at sea. Naval oceanography has to be an early adopter of new technology.

“The demonstrations performed at CNMOC’s ANTX gave Navy leadership a first-hand assessment of what we can accomplish—IPOE and hydrographic surveys in large quantity,” he said. “Our demos gave a glimpse into the future of naval oceanography. Autonomy is critical. How to build on successes? Be quicker and tap into small business innovations. We need these partnerships to grow. This will get the latest technology to the fleet. We need to spread the word of the success of ANTX.”

During the ANTX opening ceremony, Capt. David Bauer, Director of Rapid Prototyping, Experimentation and Accelerated Acquisition for the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (DASN) for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) said that new technical focus is required to maintain strategic advantage and pointed to areas such as hypersonics, directed energy, machine learning, quantum science, and microelectronics that are of particular interest to DASN.

“ANTX is meant for exploration and experimentation,” Bauer said.

Many of the projects presented this year were the result of collaboration at previous ANTX events, creating synergies and building upon one another.

Rob O’Malley, Sales and Business Development Manager at iXBlue, brought the Global Acoustic Positioning System (GAPS) to operate with the fleet at CNMOC. “We really had a great experience,” O’Malley said. “We achieved dozens of objectives, in fact, meeting a number of different interests that this enabling technology could fit for the Navy. Last year the tech warrants, who really understand how the technology works, helped us understand where the value was for the Navy. That’s how we got connected to CNMOC so we could go to work with operators and understand the value of what it could bring. It’s been a great learning experience for us.”

Technologies at ANTX HMI 18 ran the gamut from first-of-its-kind technologies to commercial-off-the-shelf products, while participants included both large and small companies, government, and academia. The following is a small sample of innovative solutions presented at the event:

  • NUWC Newport Division’s Energy and Propulsion Branch exercised its non-mechanical transducer, which uses carbon nanotube fibers. The team of NUWC scientists and engineers partnered with QinetiQ North America to integrate their innovative sensor technology with QinetiQ’s SeaScout UUV. The pings from the thermophone inside the UUV were “loud and clear.”
  • Z-senz LLC, a small company from Maryland founded in 2015, developed an underwater light detection and ranging (U-LIDAR) sensor. They integrated their technology in NOSWC’s IVER3 UUV. The Z-senz team was able to implement feedback as a result of the collaboration with NOSWC and has since made the technology more useful for fleet applications.
  • Huntington Ingalls Industries partnered with Advanced Acoustic Concepts and Battelle to demonstrate a single-sortie, detect-to-engage capability using the Proteus Large UUV and the Angler A-sized UUV. The sortie was conducted at Panama City, Fla., and video of the exercise was displayed at ANTX, as was the Proteus vehicle.
  • Teledyne Brown Engineering and Teledyne Energy Systems joined forces for an exercise titled “Fleet-wide damage control and ship’s husbandry ROV.” An autonomous undersea fuel cell (Teledyne Energy) powered the SeaBotix remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to demonstrate ship’s husbandry including hull and running gear inspections.

“The participants at ANTX HMI 18 proved what it means to innovate,” said Nick DelGreco, ANTX Integration Lead. “Some participants tested prototypes at ANTX that were merely ideas nine months ago. Others integrated their hardware or software with UUVs or UAVs to conduct previously untried exercises. Participants were not afraid to fail, something that is critical to innovation.”

A comprehensive feedback effort was new to NUWC Newport Division’s ANTX this year. Craig Sawyer, who is in NAVSEA Commander’s Executive Fellows Program, and Lauren Konrath, data analyst at NUWC Newport Division, led the fleet feedback effort, preparing feedback surveys and the method for data collection.

“We have taken leadership and operators from the field and given them a chance to have direct input to emerging technology prior to first government contact with the acquisitions process,” Sawyer said. “With the feedback collected, we are influencing industry and academia through education of military needs and desires.”

Feedback was provided from both a fleet/operational perspective as well as a technical perspective. For an operational perspective, a team of 18 represented Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Squadron, Office of Naval Research (ONR)/Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, NUWC military detachment, Special Operations Command, OPNAV N81, and CNMOC. For a technical perspective, a team of 17 represented ONR/NRL, OPNAV N8, CNMOC, and all of the NUWC Newport Division technical codes.

In total, 511 surveys of the ANTX technologies were completed—260 operational and 251 technical. Technology-specific comments regarding sensors exercised at ANTX will help participants shape their technologies as they evolve.

“ANTX provides the ability for the warfighter to speak directly to designers and explain what survives and adds value to military operations,” Sawyer said. “We work in a unique environment; there are few communities outside the warfighter and Navy engineering community that have the experience and perspective we shared during ANTX. It was a unique opportunity where all stakeholders, from developer to fleet operative, get a chance to mold the clay of future concepts. The exercise allows engineering, acquisitions, operations and designers to exchange ideas at such a fluid time of development; no requirements are in the way of the free exchange of ideas and suggestions at ANTX.”

ANTX participants also were asked to provide feedback on their experiences. Responses such as “The number of government representatives on hand to discuss requirements and help share internal R&D (research and development) was invaluable,” “Our exercise was successful and will guide our plans going forward,” and “We were able to succeed with the Navy’s help,” will shape the series as it moves forward.

Attendees’ feedback on their experiences indicated that the event achieved its goals. When asked what they liked about the event, attendees pointed to the technologies: “Saw some fantastic tech; very open discussion,” “Exposure to cutting edge technologies, along with opportunity to discuss systems and concepts in depth with system developers,” “Technologies covered full spectrum from near pure science to ready-to-deploy-systems or uses of existing TRL (technology readiness level) 9 systems,” and “Seeing the small companies and new ideas, seeing how cheap tech is being leveraged and defense solutions.”

Since its inception in 2015, ANTX has been NUWC Newport Division’s annual culminating event created specifically for the Navy to see the future of technology in action today.

“We have stayed true to its founding vision of providing a lower-risk environment where scientists and engineers can evaluate their technological innovations at the research and development level before their technology has to become militarized and interface at the operational level of the Navy,” said Dr. Peter Hardro, ANTX Director. “However, we have also evolved ANTX over the years by experimenting with the theme, our partners, and our processes. For example, this year we focused on strengthening our approach for providing written feedback to our participants. ANTX remains a catalyst for collaboration, innovation, and fleet feedback, and we look forward to evolving ANTX further in 2019 during our 150th year anniversary.”

AquaBotix SwarmDiver™

Also demonstrated at the most recent ANTX was the SwarmDiver™ by AquaBotix, which is a micro UUV drone capable of operating as a group—or swarm—with other SwarmDiver™ drones. At just less than 2.5 feet in length, just wider than 5 inches in diameter, and weighing a little more than 3.7 lbs., SwarmDiver™ is easily deployable and recoverable on the surface, whether manually or autonomously. It can travel at a speed of up to 4.3 knots for 2.5 hours for a distance of more than four miles.

Aside from its obvious uses in oceanography, aquaculture, research, and hydrographic surveying, the U.S. Navy has asked Aquabotix to work with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport for testing SwarmDiver™ for use in defense applications. These would include missions such as intelligence and data collection, environmental monitoring, mine detection, decoy, stealthy data transfer, and target neutralization. SwarmDiver™ can also be customized to carry different sensors and payloads.

Because SwarmDiver™ UUVs can communicate with each other, they can “think” and operate as a single entity and be operated by a single individual. The operator sends commands to the swarm rather than to each individual UUV. This enables SwarmDiver™ UUVs to quickly arrange themselves into various swarm formations to suit the task at hand.

SwarmDiver™ can dive to a depth of 164 feet (50m), wirelessly transmit data back to the operator when on the surface, and even operate in surf zones.