NATO's Strategic Warfare Development Command

Dynamic Messenger 23 Provides Lessons For Autonomous Vehicles in NATO Multi Domain Operations

October 2, 2023

Troia, Portugal – Dynamic Messenger 23 successfully completed operational experimentation, supported by 16 nations and one partner nation off the coast of Sesimbra and Troia, Portugal. The ability to integrate autonomous vehicles into operations has provided a vast amount of information that will support the incorporation of new technologies into the development of NATO doctrine, tactics and procedures.

Dynamic Messenger 23 followed the Portuguese Navy-led Robotic Experimentation and Prototyping with Maritime Unmanned Systems (REPMUS) exercise, which focused on capability development and interoperability. REPMUS and Dynamic Messenger demonstrated the importance of the employment of autonomous vehicles in multi-domain operations.

During the execution of Dynamic Messenger, focus was on seven warfare areas with various technologies employed to allow for the integration of autonomous assets into operations. These included Protection of Critical Undersea Infrastructure with Maritime Unmanned Systems and Mine Counter-Measures assets; Naval Mine Warfare; Maritime Security Operations; Force Protection; Underwater Warfare; Amphibious Operations; Rapid Environmental Assessment and Medical and Logistics. Maritime Security Operations and the associated Maritime Situational Awareness that support it, underpins most, if not all, of the activities that occurred during Dynamic Messenger.

NATO’s Vilnius Summit Communique released in July 2023, outlined the Alliance agreement to establish NATO’s Maritime Centre for the Security of Critical Undersea Infrastructure within NATO’s Maritime Command. Within this agreement was a commitment to set up a network that brings together NATO, Allies, private sector, and other relevant actors to improve information sharing and exchange best practice.

Dynamic Messenger represents this commitment, with participants being provided with the necessary operational background focused on Critical Undersea Infrastructure to conduct operations. The exercise educated staff and crew on various activities including the legal requirements for operating autonomous vehicles during such tasks as surveying, locating and, potentially, neutralizing potential threats. Off the shores of Troia and Sesimbra, Portugal, new and emerging technologies, especially under water autonomous vehicles were employed to build a common sub-surface picture. Autonomous systems allow for lengthened, persistent employment, at depth, to build a common underwater picture of critical underwater infrastructure. Technologies, including the use of artificial intelligence, can help to identify above and below surface activities, allowing for the exploitation of data and identification of anomalies that may represent threats to such critical submarine infrastructure as communication and high-voltage cables that cross the Atlantic.

Critical Undersea Infrastructure operational experimentation objectives, conducted under the leadership of the afloat Critical Undersea Infrastructure Commander Task Group, were supported by unmanned air, surface, and underwater assets. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles such as SCHIEBEL and OGASSA provided outstanding persistent air surveillance capability while Unmanned Surface Vehicles such as KALUGA and SEAD systems allowed for discrete identification of suspicious surface activity. Unmanned Underwater Vehicles such as the Gavia with its side scan sonar, and the NATO Centre for Maritime Research & Experimentation’s BIONDo with its forward-looking sonar, allowed for the detection of anomalies and informed decisions on how to best deal with potential threats or disruptions to the Critical Undersea Infrastructure. The utilization of Unmanned Underwater Vehicles and 5G secure networks for the passing of information between the Underwater Warfare realm and the surface and air realms has demonstrated much promise.

NATO Centre for Maritime Research & Experimentation and the Nations also brought C4 (Command, Control, Communications, Computers) elements that allowed increased interoperability between the unmanned platforms participating in the exercise. The exercise enabled multi-national interoperability by allowing all NATO and partner unmanned systems to share information and taskings.

Dynamic Messenger also provided a venue for building on the strength of the Alliance.  This year’s exercise was visited by observers from Republic of Korea, Japan and New Zealand. Furthermore, Sweden participated throughout the exercise. Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the collaboration with partners is getting even stronger and more frequent. The interest and engagement by the Indo pacific partners has led to such visits to NATO sites, exercises and ships which provides all with a better understanding of current and future NATO maritime operations.

With the success of Dynamic Messenger, and utilizing advanced Maritime Unmanned System assets, the process of honing NATO tactics, techniques, and procedures has begun; not only to employ these assets, but also to defend against potential unmanned threats. The task now for NATO’s Maritime Command and Allied Command Transformation is to analyze the data gathered and, working with industry and academia, build a better understanding of how new and emerging technologies can be employed in multi-domain operations. With this improved understanding, NATO will be in a better position to identify those future technologies, which can be advanced and integrated across NATO multi-domain operations.