Increasing the pace of change for Maritime Unmanned Systems (MUS)
So we have worked together now for the past 4 years at the Undersea Defence and Security Conference. How do you see developments in Unmanned Systems progressing?
The Journey to wide spread deployment of Maritime Unmanned Systems (MUS) continues, but the pace of change has certainly increased.
The recent Brussels Summit underscored the developing threats to NATO from “an arc of insecurity and instability along NATO’s periphery and beyond”. The Alliance faces a range of security challenges and threats that originate both from the east and from the south; from state and non-state actors; from military forces and from terrorist cyber, or hybrid attacks. In addition: Russia’s military intervention, significant military presence, support for the regime in Syria, and its military presence in the Black Sea projecting power into the Eastern Mediterranean have posed further risks and challenges.” The summit resolved to “improve our strategic anticipation by enhancing our situational awareness, particularly in the east and south and in the North Atlantic. Our ability to understand, track and, ultimately, anticipate, the actions of potential adversaries through Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and comprehensive intelligence arrangements is increasingly important.”
This political direction is already having an impact on the development of future maritime capabilities. Nations have stepped forward and laid out research areas in which they would like to collaborate. Chief among these, are Multistatic ASW, Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Battle Space Characterisation, Underwater Communications, and Undersea Surveillance. In all of these areas, MUS is featuring prominently in Nations thinking and planning of future capabilities.
The area that has developed most rapidly in recent times is Mine Countermeasures (MCM) using MUS. Here we have seen a number of Nations working with industry to implement advanced MUS based solutions. In Europe, Belgium and the Netherlands have committed to MUS in support of MCM and a major procurement is currently in train. The benefits of moving forward with MUS in the MCM are clear: aged MCM vessels need to be replaced, at a time of fiscal austerity have caused nations to step back from traditional platforms and the maturity of MUS has opened new doors. Belgium and Netherlands have embarked upon an ambitious program, which will deliver a combination of manned/unmanned surface and subsurface vehicles. This program is not without risk but the potential benefits are clear to see. Despite these impressive developments there remain challenges to overcome. Automatic Target Recognition and Collaborative Autonomy (to allow multiple vehicles worked together), represent two areas where further work is required. Interoperability and standards still lag behind and national acquisition processes need modernisng to deal with rapidly changing technologies.
So, where else have we seen progress? Well one area that has really seized the attention of the operational community relates to the use of MUS as ISR assets. In 2017, CMRE demonstrated the potential of ocean gliders to harvest oceanographic data, to analyse this data in near real-time and provide the operational command with intelligence in support of ASW missions. This improved both efficiency and effectiveness in the deployment of expensive ASW assets. Working with SNMG2, HMS Diamond in the Mediterranean CMRE deployed gliders as organic assets for the first time in NATO. Glider technology has the advantage of overcoming issues of persistence which remains a key limiting factor in other areas of Maritime warfare.
The warfare area that has caught the attention of NATO commanders most of all however, is ASW and attention is turning to MUS as a potential option to counter the growing threats. The return of Russia as a naval power is underpinned by its investment in and employment of their advanced submarine capabilities. New, quieter platforms armed with Kalibr land-attack cruise missiles have been recognized as a potential threat to NATO Allies and European Partners. It has been noted by some that we are seeing a return to almost Cold War levels of submarine activity. Senior NATO Commanders have cited an increase of Russian submarine activity by as much as 50% over the past two years alone.
How is NATO responding? Well NATO has placed an increasing emphasis on its multinational ASW exercise. The annual Dynamic Mongoose and Dynamic Manta ASW Exercises continue to play the primary role in maintaining and enhancing Alliance ASW skill with an ambitious exercise series focused on experimentation and the re-learning of Theatre ASW skills in the old ASW backyards of the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap and the Mediterranean.
MARCOM has engaged CMRE in concept development for an ASW barrier that could be deployed in strategically key locations. Building upon a decade of experience operating with a variety of MUS solutions, CMRE can provide sound scientific advice on how a federation of heterogeneous sensors might work together. This would include addressing interoperability, C2 standards and mechanisms but also performance issues and doctrinal matters. MARCOM is also leading the charge through increased Operational Experimentation (OPEX): “Innovating for today” as COM MARCOM would say. With access to the blue water ocean through the NATO Research Vessel (NRV) ALLIANCE, and deployable/expeditionary unmanned systems capabilities, CMRE has the ability to provide an at sea, collaboration hub for Operational Experimentation (OPEX). Having access to an asset such as the NRV ALLIANCE offers NATO the ability to conduct activities in areas such as the high latitudes and eastern Mediterranean. Focused, OPEX serials, associated with the introduction of MUS in ASW and MCM have already demonstrated their worth in facilitating and accelerating transformation. The benefits are plain to see: improved awareness, increased trust, and interoperability across the DOTMLPFI spectrum. CMRE is increasingly playing an important role in these exercises through for example, the testing and integration of future concepts for Unmanned Systems for ASW, METOC services and Environmental Decision Support tools.
A real breakthrough came in October this year. Working with NATO HQ (Defence Investment Division) CMRE has championed a multinational approach to collaboratively address MUS development. On the 3rd October thirteen NATO nations signed a Declaration of Intent (DoI) at Defence Ministerial level to collaborate on the development of MUS. The Steering Group met for the first time on the 5-6 Feb in La Spezia to develop roadmaps to take this important initiative forward. One of the key questions was around level of ambition – which remains under discussion. The initiative promises accelerate the instruction of MUS across the Alliance by sharing costs and de-risking implementation.
As we look to the future, new challenges emerge. Areas that deserve consideration in moving
- Autonomy Countermeasures. How does NATO protect maritime assets and secure seaways and ports from lethal autonomous assets? The state of COTS technology is now such that a very capable turnkey system can be purchased for a modest sum and modified with low-level mechanical skills to become a sophisticated torpedo.
- Maritime Cyber. The Cyber domain has been recognised as a fourth war fighting domain, and it impacts maritime operations as much, and possibly more, than air or land. Since the communications bandwidth for underwater assets is very limited, the potential for cyber-attack on underwater assets is unique to that environment and appropriate defence has yet to be explored.
- Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (Joint ISR) is a vital next step in the evolution of ISR. While ISR can help answer the questions “what,” “when” and “where”, intelligently fused elements from disparate intelligence sources and disciplines can provide answers to “how” and “why”. The fusion and intelligent interpretation of multiple sources of ISR, combined with deep learning, creates a much more powerful decision support framework, Joint ISR. CMRE is working at the heart of the component scientific and technology areas to bring Joint ISR to fruition.
- Data Fusion, Big Data Analytics. There are significant opportunities emerging the area of Data Fusion and Big Data Analytics to add value to the operational community through value added information services.
Concurrently, with NATO’s efforts, the European Union is also investing heavily in Defence related R&D. The European Defence Research Fund plans to allocate €13Bn to defence related projects from 2021 for 7 years including €4.1Bn is for dedicated R&D. Permanent Structure Cooperation (PESCO) is also ongoing and Mar itime Autonomous Systems for MCM led by Belgium is underway with the formation of a consortium of SME’s funded partially by the EU.
So, I think when we look at progress overall and potential funding and plans for the future, I think we can legitimately claim that the pace of change has indeed increased and the next 12 months promises to see yet further developments in this most challenging of areas.