Belgian North Sea Unmanned MCM Trials 2017 Update
In late 2016 the Belgian and Netherlands Ministers of Defence signed a letter of Intent for the bi-national procurement of a next generation MCM and surface combatant capability. In the first semester of 2018 a Memorandum of Understanding will be signed which will initiate the formal procurement phase of both future capabilities.
To counter the challenges presented by the current legacy capability shortfalls, and to ‘de-risk’ the future MCM capability development, a variety of Concept Development and Experimentation (CD&E) trials have been conducted in 2016 and 2017.
Underwater Defence and Security 2018 will provide delegates with an opportunity to learn about the progress of the 2017 MCM trials with Commander Pascale Van Leeuwen, Commander Naval MCM Service of the Belgian Navy, Operational Commander for the North Sea Unmanned MCM Trials 2017, Belgian Navy and Commander Yvo Jaenen, Deputy Commander Naval MCM Service of the Belgian Navy, Material Resources Lead Planner and Operational Commander for the NSU MCM Trials 2016-2017, Belgian Navy, presenting key findings and capability requirements moving forwards.
The trials main objective, taking place just off the Belgian Coast in typical North Sea underwater conditions and environmental complexities, was to assess the maturity levels of future unmanned or autonomous MCM systems. Industry partners demonstrated their unmanned MCM systems and an important focus area was the autonomous behaviour of unmanned surface drones and unmanned underwater vehicles at sufficient Stand-Off Ranges (SOR) from a launching and control platform.
Ahead of their session, Belgian North Sea Unmanned MCM trials 2017 update, taking place at 1400 on 20th March during the MCM Focus Day, we spoke to Commander Van Leeuwen and Commander Jaenen to preview what nations, governments and industry representatives can expect to discover.
You'll be presenting during the MCM focus day at Underwater Defence & Security with an update on the Belgium MCM 2017 trials program. Without giving too much away at this stage, what will be the key points you wish to get across to our audience?
We will address the following main characteristics of the user concept of future unmanned systems in mine countermeasure operations:
- Automated employment of UxV under positive command and control of a dedicated MCM platform to launch and retrieve sensors and effectors at substantial stand-off ranges in order to execute the full detect-to- engage cycle;
- USV and AUV automated behaviour with their C3 challenges;
- Sonar performance in terms of Probability of Detection (PoC) and Probability of Classification (PoC) against different types of mine targets in varying bottom conditions.
In your session you will touch on the post Joint Warrior exercise road map that is now in place. Are you able to provide our audience with a preview of what you might touch upon here please?
Similar as during the MCM portion of Unmanned Warrior 2016, the NSU MCM trials were aiming at assessing whether the near future technology levels of maritime unmanned systems can stand-up to the operational requirements to conduct future MCM operations in a more effective, more efficient and safer manner than is the case with legacy systems.
To fulfil these requirements, sensors need to demonstrate high resolutions resulting in very high probability of detection of traditional as well as low target strength mine shapes under austere UW conditions.
Future MCM tools need to supply high coverage rates which require processing of large amounts of sensor data with minimal human intervention by using smart Automatic Target Detection and Classification functionalities.
Are there any technology needs and/or requirements as part of the MoU that you require industry support with?
One of the most important domains where the technological readiness level seems to be lagging is the so-called Automatic Target Recognition (ATR).
To keep up with the operational tempo, future MCM tools need to achieve very high coverage rates and guarantee that the vast amount of sensor data is being processed in near real-time, distinguishing between enemy mines or other sea objects.
This requires the application of innovative concepts as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Deep Learning into the Pre, During and Post Mission Analysis process of MCM sensor data. Such high-level ATR algorithms that drastically lower false alarm rates will provide the necessary build-up of confidence for the human operator who can then deploy his MCM tools in a truly autonomous manner knowing, with a high degree of confidence level, that he can offer the operational commander a ‘low remaining risk’ sea area to conduct his AA / AD operations.
Who do you think would most benefit from listening to your presentation?
We believe that our account of the 2017 NSU MCM trials will interest both industries that are offering autonomous systems to counter future mine threat scenarios as well as Allied or Partner nations that have equally adapted the Stand-Off MCM concept as the way ahead for the future conduct of MCM operations.
And finally, in terms of the event itself, what are you most looking forward to over the 3 days in Portsmouth?
We are looking forward to meeting and discussing with industry partners that offer technological and conceptual solutions beyond the MCM warfare domain.
Because we believe that the advent of next generation maritime autonomous systems, with highly performing sensors and automated effectors, creates opportunities for the development of future ‘systems of systems’ or ‘networked underwater and above water systems’ which can be tailored to the military commander’s mission needs in a cross-warfare domain matter.
Their proclaimed connectivity, standardization and interoperability should make them suitable for a wide range of underwater as well as above water warfare tasks that will range from hydrographical surveys and Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA) up to shaping the underwater battle space to facilitate the conduct of Anti-Access / Area Denial maritime combat operations.