Revealing the secrets of the underwater world

Finding Nemo with unmanned robots?

161024gliderOne of TIDE Sprint's Tracks – the transformational think tank for information superiority – is the Maritime Situational Awareness. This track will dive into the secret world of underwater (subsurface) operations with unmanned robots. Especially of interest will be the Command and Control part for this kind of operations.

Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, Remotely Operated Vehicles, Buoys, Seafloor Platforms – just to mention some of the many futuristic devices and equipment – need to communicate their findings and receive instructions. The process of “sensing”, “processing”, “sense-making”, and “deciding” appeals to the maritime surface and sub-surface activities as much as it does for any other military operation. However, other than land, surface, and air operations, there are many variables to be considered when operating within the underwater environment. Water properties, pressure, salinity, currents, turbidity, bathymetry, acoustic propagation and geotechnical factors have a large influence on Command and Control under the surface for an efficient coordination and effectiveness of the underwater assets.

Robots are helping us to explore the unknown and the secrets of the underwater world. As an example, underwater gliders (platforms that use a buoyance engine and can sustain underwater missions on the order of months) help to measure and predict the environmental parameters that constraint SONAR (SOund Navigation And Ranging) performance. These gliders contribute also to underwater acoustic surveillance and monitor activities by providing in real-time acoustic signals for Indication and Warning.

Many challenges have to be mastered for successful operations. Underwater robots could also operate under thick layers of sea ice, traveling on transpolar routes where current navigational systems are useless, and run autonomously for several months.

The relevance of unmanned robots in NATO can be quite broad. In particular, the benefits for the NATO concepts Recognized Maritime Picture and Recognized Environmental Picture are to be exploited for the underwater domain. During this TIDE Sprint, the concept for the glider Command and Control capability hosted by NATO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimantation that was exercised during Coalition Warrior Interoperability eXercise 2016 will be presented and discussed. The challenge will be to discuss how these underwater gliders deployed in the water for two months could be further developed to meet the requirements of the operational capabilities and to work without human interaction in a coalition. Participants will help to overcome communication constraints and to protect sensitive information. They will actively work on the development of use cases for unmanned robots and discuss issues with unmanned robots regarding interoperability, deployment and recovery, limitations for communication, and Command and Control for remote operations considering large versus short distances. Existing Command and Control standards have to be aligned with emerging standards for underwater and satellite communications.

The Maritime Situational Awareness track will aim for the integration of functionalities provided by unmanned underwater robots in existing Command and Control and Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance national and NATO capabilities by developing a roadmap for the definition of requirements and development / refinement of standards that will be consistent with the Federated Mission Networking concept. Dr Raúl Vicen, Senior Scientist at the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation, will provide inputs from recent research activities in maritime operations with unmanned robots, such as underwater gliders.