Doctrinally, the concept of amphibious operations has followed a deliberate linear approach from planning to termination with the landing force only entering the area of operations once rehearsal and re-embarkation have been completed to suit the requirements of the planned mission. As an example, the Royal Navy plans to deploy two Littoral Strike Groups (LSG) on a permanent basis, to extend the UK’s presence, insight, and influence globally. The most likely operating areas are the Indo-Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans. The forces are far more likely to be operating in the eventual amphibious operating area before an operation is conducted. In our view, the familiar acronym PERMSAT (Planning, Embarkation, Rehearsal, Manoeuvre, Shaping, Action, Termination) will be compressed to chronologically and geographically to three broad activities: persistent presence and posture; concentration of amphibious force, action and termination. But they will overlap and compete for resources and space. So how could the LSG maintain its situational awareness (and a degree of presence) while it must depart a littoral zone to reorganise and rehearse?
Advance force and pre-landing operations are predominantly covert in nature and sequenced as close or coordinated with the assault to minimise the resource and logistic burden and maintain the advantage of surprise.
Vessels operating on the surface are vulnerable and can disclose favoured channels or operating areas. Crewed Mine Countermeasures Vessels (MCMVs) require additional tailored defensive support if operating within enemy engagement range. Even uncrewed surface assets can be targeted by coastal defence missile and artillery systems which must be neutralised before assets are committed close to land. As swarm attacks by surface and air drones become more accurate and lethal, it is conceivable that surface assets will only be used once the landing force has committed to its area of operations and even then, at increased risk of destruction by enemy action.
So how does a pre-deployed LSG prepare itself for an assault when it is already in or close to its operating area? If stores and vehicles need to be reorganised from efficient and safe storage to assault order, the amphibious force will need to leave the littoral zone at the very time that it is looking to increase situational awareness. Meanwhile any advance force, pre-landing or MCM activity must operate without the need for additional defensive capabilities and without advertising the amphibious operating area geometry. The use of surface assets for low-risk deception only is a soft option that negates the need for adequate organic protection capability within the LSG design. The deduction is simple, mitigate for a denied or contested surface environment by augmenting sub-surface capabilities: the underwater domain is more covert and, for the time being at least, more survivable.
Uncrewed, autonomous systems could be left behind to continue intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and MCM “tasking, and potentially as the senor-decider-effector chain is established they could contribute to area denial, pending the return of the amphibious force.
These assets could be mobile – either crawling or swimming before settling again to conserve power, to keep pace with the changing requirements of the littoral strike group and frustrate counter measures by the enemy. As the LSG achieves its objective and moves closer to sustain itself for as long as required, these assets could provide the seaward sensor/defensive screen or move with the task group to maintain a positioning network independent from GPS.
The sense-decide-effect system of system of systems will rely on a robust secure underwater communication network. In our vision exploiting the technology carried by each of the previously mentioned self-propelled nodes and vehicles.
Our technology partners have over 50 years’ experience in the offshore energy sectors. Integration and testing in the amphibious context is the next step. Integration of acoustic array technology could maintain the force’s level of situational awareness. This technology is well understood and used extensively in the energy sector. Pre-positioned and pre-surveyed transponders can already provide centimetre accurate positioning independent of GNSS input. Sensor agnostic seabed nodes are already available, integration with acoustic, seismic, magnetic sensors is low risk and achievable within a very short time frame. Acoustic and optical communications options can support data transfers at speeds up to 1Gb/s depending on range.
Forcys is ready to help you now. Early engagement is needed to help solve the challenges the future operating space presents. We can use indicative blocks of proven technology to show you how our technology can help.
If you’d like to hear more about our vision of amphibious warfare in the future or think we could deliver some of these capabilities in partnership, contact us for more information.
Justin Hains MBE left the Royal Navy in 2020. Among other professional qualifications, he completed the Advanced Mine Warfare Course and the Amphibious Operations Planning Course during a career as a Mine Warfare Clearance Diving Officer and Principal Warfare Officer (Underwater).
The ViperFish is an all-in-one compact remotely operated towed vehicle (ROTV) ideally suited for expeditionary mine countermeasures (MCM) and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) surveys. Martin Kristensen, VP of Hardware Development at our technology partner EIVA, explains all in this edition of The Watch.
“The ViperFish is a new surveying platform that we developed to address the growing demand for unexploded ordnance (UXO) surveying in the offshore wind industry,” said Kristensen. “It is a versatile and easy-to-use system that can be deployed from a vessel of opportunity. Expeditionary MCM survey requirements are very similar so navies can benefit from all our commercial experience to make their surveys far more efficient.”
Experience where it counts
“We wanted to incorporate all the lessons we learned from building and operating the ScanFish ROTV, the industry’s leading UXO survey platform, into the design of the ViperFish, creating a UXO surveying platform optimised to meet the demands of our customers. These include increasingly efficient surveys and where possible these needed to be automated. To support an increasing volume of surveys, new ROTVs needed to be compact, easy to launch and recover from a variety of vessels, including uncrewed surface vessels (USVs), and equipped with class-leading payloads and navigation sensors.
The system is built using the same building blocks as the ScanFish, enabling us to leverage all that experience. The first obvious difference between the ViperFish and the ScanFish is the shape. The ViperFish is cylindrical with actuated fins, while the ScanFish is shaped like an airfoil. The new system is as manoeuvrable, but the difference in shape offers a number of benefits:
- A lower drag coefficient: this means that it requires less power to tow. This is important for autonomous UXO surveys, as it allows the ViperFish to be deployed from smaller vessels or even from shore.
- More stability in rough seas: the pitch and roll are controlled by the actuators maintaining a more stable platform enabling you to work closer to the seafloor and maintain a stable platform at the sweet spot for the sensors providing improved data and therefore better decision making.
- A narrower profile enabling operations from smaller vessels: making it easier to transport and deploy. This is a major advantage for expeditionary surveys, as it allows the ViperFish to be deployed and recovered more quickly and easily.
It’s not just the platform. It’s the whole system. We conducted significant research to minimise the cable drag. By doing this, we can operate with smaller winches and deploy from a smaller surface area. We offer two shipment options: a self-contained cradle-box that can be shipped everywhere, or a container ready to integrate into a vessel.
It’s taken some time, but one of the most memorable things about the ViperFish is the first time we put it in the water,” said Kristensen. “On our first prototype test, we were out sailing 3 days and we had 100% uptime on the system. It was really a relief and a joy to see that all of our hard work had paid off.”
All the payloads
The ViperFish is equipped with all the sensors typically required on an ROTV, including:
- Solstice multi-aperture sonar: Used to create a two-dimensional image of the seabed. This image can be used to detect mine-like objects. The ViperFish uses the Solstice from our technology partner Wavefront Systems. This sonar is known for its high resolution and low power consumption.
- R2Sonic 2020 multibeam echosounder: It creates a three-dimensional image of the seabed. This is used to fill the gap ensuring 100 % coverage from a single survey line.
- OFG Hypermag: This magnetometer detects magnetic anomalies in the water or on the seabed generated by mines or other metallic objects while filtering out magnetic anomalies generated by the ViperFish itself.
- SPRINT-Nav Mini hybrid DVL-INS: Used to track orientation, position and speed; this system is from our technology partner Sonardyne. This information is used to create accurate maps of the survey area.
- Mini-Ranger 2 USBL positioning: The ultra-short baseline positioning system is used to track the ViperFish’s position in absolute coordinates. The Mini-Ranger 2 is a class-leading positioning system from our technology partner Sonardyne.
- Valeport sound velocity sensor: the sensor is used to optimise the sonar survey in real time, which is especially important when operating close inshore and within estuaries where sonar conditions can change rapidly.
The integration of these sensors into the ViperFish ROTV makes it a versatile and efficient UXO surveying platform. The ViperFish can be used to conduct surveys in a variety of conditions, and it can detect a wide range of objects.
Low-logistics, simple to operate, quick to train
“The ViperFish is operated by a crew of two people. The survey plans are prepared beforehand using NaviSuite Kuda software from EIVA. When launching the system, one person is responsible for supervising the ViperFish, while the other person controls the crane. At a speed through water of 2 to 10 knots, once in the water the ViperFish automatic controls take over, quickly swimming to the appropriate height from the seafloor within less than a minute. When the system is deployed one person is responsible for monitoring the automated mission while operating the ViperFish’s sensors and collecting data. If the ViperFish detects a possible UXO, the crew can mark the location on a map. The crew can then return to the location at a later time to investigate further. The system follows the seabed at a fixed height and can cope with slopes of up to 45 degrees. Plus it can replan its mission if obstacles are detected and avoid them in a safe manner while still obtaining high-quality data. When the mission is completed, the ViperFish is recovered by the two-person crew. We are also in discussions with USV manufacturers to make the launch and recovery totally automated.”
“The system is relatively easy to operate, even for people who are not trained hydrographers. The whole training process can be completed in a couple of weeks, it is mostly focused on learning how to set up the system and how to operate the sensors. If the crew is already experienced with using autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) systems or the ScanFish, the training process will be a couple of days at most. Since the user interface of NaviSuite Kuda, EIVA’s survey software, is used widely in the commercial sector, there is already a large pool of contractors and trainers ready to support operations. In addition, sailors will be gaining valuable skills to support their transition to the commercial sector.”
“Ultimately, it’s about delivering our customers the best data, and you’ll be surprised how challenging it is to get these many payloads into the right form factor. But it has been worth it. We offer an incredible amount of area coverage rate of actual actionable data using class leading sensors.”
Please contact us to find out more.
In this edition of The Watch, we talked with Simon Goldsworthy, Global Business Development Manager at our technology partner Wavefront Systems, about the latest advances in intruder detection technology.
The current conflict in Ukraine has highlighted the disruptive effect of drones. It’s shown that a rogue squadron of uncrewed systems can pose an asymmetric challenge to any harbour or ship. In the right hands, the damage can be significant. To date, airborne drones and uncrewed surface vessels have shown their ability to penetrate conventional defences. Though difficult to counter, they are anything but covert. Sinking below the water’s surface, the autonomous or unmanned underwater vehicle, takes advantage of the waters cloaking to pose a much more significant threat. Programmed from afar, these systems can follow a predetermined course and remain underwater for long periods, making them invisible to radars and optical systems. Though more complex to manufacture, their proliferation and availability over the last decade makes them a viable threat accessible to many near-peer adversaries. As of today, it is relatively simple to program a flight path and equip the drones with multiple payloads, each presenting a different threat.
Needle in a haystack
When detecting targets underwater, the technology of choice is sonar: sound waves are transmitted through the water and the reflections from targets can be used to detect and track them. Underwater drones, also known as autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) systems or uncrewed underwater vehicle (UUV) systems, are challenging for sonar operators as they present a relatively small target. In a confined environment where the sound reflects from the seafloor, the sea surface or harbour walls and travels at different speeds through changing water column temperatures, the ability to detect these vehicles is no simple feat.
Our technology partners, Wavefront Systems, know how difficult this challenge is, they manufacture the world’s most deployed intruder detection sonar, Sentinel. This system was developed to detect and alarm when divers approach. Although divers are a challenging target, their speed, pattern of movement and equipment works against them. This weakness is exploited by Sentinel to keep customers safe across a myriad of environments whilst deployed from ships, on the side of a dam wall, on a seabed mounting or by expeditionary teams from RHIBs.
However, when Wavefront first looked at an AUV signature they realised a new challenge had emerged. AUV’s and UUV’s have much smaller noise signatures, can present a smaller target and travel at greater speed. Sentinel has always excelled at finding the needle in the haystack but with underwater drones, it was difficult to detect and then keep track of them at the ranges which we had become accustomed to when tracking divers.
Feel the noise
“Our R&D team are never happier than when they have a new challenge to defeat”, Goldsworthy recalls, “At the speed which AUV technology was being developed, we knew they were clearly going to become a threat to our customer base. Fortunately for us, AUV’s and UUV’s are machines with mechanical parts which is unfortunate for them, as we can listen out for their telltale systemic noise. We filed for a patent to enable us to combine Simultaneous In-band Active and Passive Sonar to track underwater targets, a technology we refer to as SInAPS®. That’s the story behind Sentinel 2. The results have been better than we ever hoped for.”
Merging active data returns, with the passive track provides a substantial performance improvement, especially so when active returns are weak and infrequent. We conducted early trials against one-person portable UUV’s which demonstrated the capability. Since that time, several trials have been conducted against different UUV’s of varying sizes and mechanical construction. Sentinel 2 can find more drones with small to medium vehicles commonly detected at distances of over 500 m. This means more time in which to plan your response.
Simple to operate
“Say you’d like to protect a vessel alongside, the Sentinel sonar head can be deployed on a tripod from the vessel itself, from a RIB or other small boat. The sonar system is lightweight and portable, weighing less than 35 kg. It can be connected to a topside portable computer system to run the user interface. In addition, sonar performance indicator (SPI) software allows the operator to take a local environment probe of the seawater to assess the expected perimeter of protection of the Sentinel wherever it is being operated.” Goldsworthy also said, “The Sentinel sonar system can also be deployed by cable, without a tripod. We provide a weighted plate that can be fitted to the bottom of the sonar to maximise its stability in the water. No calibration is needed. It can be turned on and used instantly, giving the operator an immediate view of their surroundings.”
Reporting to your chain of command
“Sentinel offers a user-friendly interface designed for non-sonar operators to use. It can be set up to show all detections within the sonar range or to show only the critical threats. The information is colour coded and an audible alarm is triggered for the end client. The system is automated and can output to leading command-and-control systems through simple application programming interface.” Goldsworthy adds,” Consider this: the sonar system generates thousands of signals from the sea floor, rocks, other vessels, pier legs and anything else in the underwater environment. Sentinel then uses active and passive detection algorithms to filter out the signals that are not from divers, subsea vehicles, or AUV’s. The remaining signals are then classified as critical or non-critical for the end user. With now fifteen years of experience delivering the world’s most deployed intruder detection sonar, we understand how important it is to report the correct data.”
Every ship can be equipped with the means to counter underwater drones today
“We have trained hundreds of users and are able to accommodate different levels of ability. From maintenance to operations, we can cater for multiple trainees and all we want from your team is a handful of days. We can even train your trainers if required.”
Please contact Forcys to find out more.
Forcys brings together leading technologies, offering a comprehensive naval and subsea capability to the Australian defence market.
The release of Australia’s Defence Strategic Review pivots national defence interests toward the Indo-Pacific and places increased interest in the underwater domain. It calls out for new autonomous underwater vehicles to support their mission by highlighting the AUKUS Pillar 2 collaboration and seeks to work in close partnership with industry. It serves as validation for the recent expansion by Forcys Australia: new offices and a new team to work with customers that are already developing innovative underwater autonomous systems.
Backed by over fifty years of experience, Forcys offers the global maritime naval sector remote, autonomous, and networked control capabilities delivering integrated situational awareness to customers in the underwater domain.
Covering a range of maritime operations including asset protection, littoral strike, mine warfare, submarine rescue, and submarine and anti-submarine warfare, Forcys seeks to transform the underwater domain by enabling increasingly distributed and automated operations. This is made possible by integrating and bringing to market world-changing solutions from leading technology partners Chelsea Technologies, EIVA, Sonardyne, Voyis, and Wavefront Systems.
‘This feels great,’ said Sean Leydon, Regional Manager Asia Pacific at Forcys. ‘Although we are taking a relatively small initial step, this is a major milestone for our operations in Australia. And we are setting up in the right location. We are so grateful to the NSW government who supported us in our search. We also want to thank the University of Technology Sydney for their welcome. Innovation is fuelled by partnerships and the UTS Tech Lab enables us to work closer both with our customers and with academia. The lab is turning into a world-class research and development facility. I want our new Australian team to play a part in that.’
‘We are delighted to welcome Forcys Australia as an Industry Partner to the UTS Tech Lab,” said Professor Robert Fitch, (acting) Director UTS Tech Lab. “It’s a clear example of how we are supporting industry partners with the growth and retention of talent. Working alongside innovators in the underwater domain is also a great opportunity for the university to target our research where it is needed such us the AUKUS Pillar 2 Undersea Robotics Autonomous Systems (AURAS) project.”
If you are visiting Sydney please get in touch with our team.
Naval warships are vulnerable alongside. While gangway staff are present 24/7 at a ship’s entry point and bases are patrolled with security guards, cameras and fencing, the fact remains that today one of the greatest asymmetrical threats can come from a perpetrator, with basic diving equipment and little training, approaching a ship underwater, undetected and with relative ease.
This paper by Sean Leydon, Regional Manager at Asia Pacific for Forcys, discusses the issues that face modern warships and submarines alongside either at home or away, the degrees to which they have been targeted under this vulnerable state, and solutions to provide both the warship and its crew, protection.
History has recorded several examples of what the asymmetrical threat of placing rudimentary explosive devices on the hulls of ships can cause. From the Vietnam conflict where a diver sank the 9,000-ton USS Card with an explosive attached to the hull, to the more recent incident on 12th May 2019 where four commercial ships were targeted in the port of Fujairah in what the UAE described as a “sabotage attack”. An international investigation concluded that there were “strong indications” that the attacks were perpetrated by a sophisticated “state actor” that breached their hulls with explosives. The threat is real and so far, has proven difficult to detect and counteract without a dedicated intruder detection sonar.
From Surface Attack to Underwater Attack – The Increased Difficulty
While surface attacks on vessels in port have delivered devastating effects, the barrier to transition this threat to the more complex underwater domain has been mainly due to the access and cost of the technology and the training required to utilise it.
From the early 1990’s however, the number of sport diving rebreather brands and underwater motorised equipment has rapidly increased. Advanced sport divers increasingly tackle longer, deeper, riskier dives using equipment once available only to armed forces or professionals. Acquiring rebreather or scuba equipment and receiving technical training is no longer a barrier.
Protection of Assets – Capability Phases
Security of warships in port includes the requirement to inspect, detect and identify anomalies on ships, and wharfs and to also employ fast boats as a deterrent. As previously mentioned, base security and surveillance in ports usually covers the above water threat, including those on the water such as boats and swimmers, however, it does not cover the underwater threat from divers and underwater vehicles.
The following discusses the different phases required to defend against the underwater threat.
Phase One – Surveillance
The system must be capable of providing a constant picture of the underwater environment and any changes to it. The capability used must not only be able to provide surveillance, but be transportable, scalable, networked, and simple to operate. While permanent systems can be setup in a ship’s home port, it must be transportable and easy to setup by ship’s company if the ship has berthed in a foreign port.
Phase Two – Detection
Surveillance is only the first step of defence against a threat. The system in place must also be able to detect when an intruder (not marine life or false targets) is within an area of interest. The system needs to continuously monitor the surrounding area, understand the difference between an intruder or false target, and track the designated target of interest that it has acquired.
Phase Three – Tracking
Sonar is capable of generating thousands of detections. Each one of these needs to be tracked. Their direction of travel and behaviour will provide important cues to the next phase.
Phase Four – Classification
Whether the intrusion is from a scuba diver, rebreather or underwater vehicle, the system should provide the classification of the target for the end user. This will allow the response process to be coordinated with the appropriate action.
Sentinel: The world’s leading Intruder Detection Sonar
The Sentinel Intruder Detection Sonar (IDS) from Wavefront Systems is a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS), compact, lightweight system with a proven track record of global performance for the military and private use. Using sophisticated sonar processing algorithms, Sentinel provides fully automatic detection and tracking of potential underwater threats and targets of interest while analysing their behaviours. It provides protection against underwater threats including:
- Divers (closed/open circuit);
- Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDVs);
- Diver Propulsion Vehicles (DPVs); and
- Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs).
Weighing only 32 kgs, the Sentinel head is ideally suited for deployed warships or security units responsible for its safe arrival/berthing. Consisting of a sonar head, workstation, cables, and deployment frame, Sentinel is mobile and simple to set up. This enables operators to quickly initialise the system and secure a berth, whether deployed over the side or through the ship’s hull.
Operation of the Sentinel IDS GUI is simple, intuitive, and highly configurable. The tactical picture can be fused with localised charts and tailored to operators’ requirements, allowing the effective detection, tracking and classifying of targets.
Classification – Active and Passive Tracking
Sonars can receive signals either passively (receive only) or actively (transmit and receive) – Sentinel, uniquely combines both active and passive processing using it’s patented SInAPS® technology (Simultaneous In-band Active and Passive Sonar) allowing the passive emissions from the target to help detection and tracking when active tracking may not be possible. Furthermore, this can also help with classification of targets (for example marine life do not generally emit sound, while an AUV provides constant propeller noise).
Both types are tracked and displayed in an intuitive way which helps the operator associate the tracks and make the correct tactical decisions.
Sentinel is designed to protect ports, harbours, commercial and naval vessels, offshore platforms, and waterside facilities. Over 200 systems sold and installed, Sentinel operates across all oceans and is already used to protect naval bases, military vessels and critical national infrastructure.
Sentinel is capable of standalone operation or in multiple sonar head configuration for a larger security perimeter. The Sentinel sonars heads can be deployed at points around a port and work together using Wavefronts unique Super Inheritance™ technique to deliver a single set of threats to the user.
Wavefront Systems deployed the first Sentinel in 2009, it was a revolutionary sonar in that it was both extremely portable and offered unrivalled range and performance. Since that time the system has evolved to enable new methods of deployment, networked capabilities and improved tracking. The recent addition of simultaneous passive sonar capability means that Sentinel is yet again setting the performance at a higher bar than was thought possible. This is even more important as the threat from state actors is on the increase
If you would like to learn more about Sentinel IDS please feel free to get in touch with the team.
In an interview with The Watch, Captain Christian Haugen, USN (Ret.), provided a perspective on the US’ continued dominance of the underwater domain and subsea and seabed warfare (SSW). Asked about its importance, Haugen stated that the underwater domain remains crucial to any maritime strategy and especially so in the Indo-Pacific region. He explained that uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUV) play an increasingly important role in a variety of missions, including intelligence gathering, minesweeping, and anti-submarine warfare. Haugen went on to say that the United States Navy has a long history of leadership in the UUV space, developing and deploying UUVs for decades, and it continues to invest heavily in this technology.
Haugen, who is now the Business Development Manager for Forcys in the United States, said, “The US Navy’s dominance is due to several factors starting with our strong alliances. The US Navy works closely with countries like Australia, Japan, and Korea. Working with well-trained and well-equipped navies in support of common security objectives is a force multiplier. This is particularly important in the Indo-Pacific region, which is the point of most friction and greatest stress on our ability to answer a near-peer competitor. Captain Haugen believes the AUKUS security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States is another significant development in the underwater domain.
Captain Haugen believes dominance of the undersea domain will be crucial to any conflict in the region. At some point, should tensions escalate, task forces and other surface vessels will have to withdraw outside the range of our adversary’s long-range anti-surface missiles. Submarines and uncrewed systems, both UUVs and seafloor networks will remain to provide indications and warnings and should it be necessary, take the fight to the enemy.
High-level guiding documents such as the CNO’s Navigation Plan (2022), the Navy’s Unmanned Campaign Plan (2021), and the Submarine Forces Commander’s Intent (2020), all emphasize the importance of SSW. Budgets and programs support the push to achieve and maintain a technological advantage over its adversaries in the UUV space. The Navy’s superiority will continue to come from investment in research and development as well as continuing to foster a close relationship with the U.S. defense industry.
Keeping the advantage is about meeting the challenge
Haugen explains. “The US Navy faces a number of challenges in the underwater space, including the development of new UUV capabilities by near-peer competitors, the challenges of processing and analyzing the massive amount of data that UUVs can generate, and the limited bandwidth that is available to UUVs.
“Our near-peer competitors are catching up quickly. The first thing to be aware of is that they continue to develop capacity through aggressive ship and submarine building programs. Next is that they continue to improve their technology. The Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan now relies heavily on uncrewed maritime vessels to meet our capacity needs. Delivering those vessels—surface or undersea—will require honing technologies to allow those systems to accomplish complex missions with high levels of autonomy.
“From engineers to operators, it’s the experts in everything from UUV design and construction to UUV deployment, operations, and maintenance that are keeping us formidable in SSW. We continue to push the limits of capability and expand mission sets for UUVs through aggressive experimentation and exercises to create new doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures.”
Uncrewed systems bring new challenges. “Data overload is a good problem to have. New underwater sensing technologies can generate massive amounts of data. Take for instance the optical payloads developed by our technology partner, Voyis. They generate three dimensional maps with incredible resolution of actionable data. But just how do you share it without recovering to the surface.” You should communicate with them. Haugen describes this challenge, “The underwater domain is limited by the acoustic communications data rates. And that same acoustic comms compromises the existence and location of the undersea system. Optical systems offer higher data rates but require very close proximity for the communicating systems. Exfiltrating data or passing mission commands is a problem that will get bigger before it gets smaller.”
It’s a question of trade-offs
“The edge processing required for autonomous systems becomes a huge issue itself. Most artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) systems require significant processing power to run. This will seriously degrade mission endurance with a knock-on effect on capability. The balancing point between processing data at the edge and exfiltrating it for real-time or near real-time use is a really tough technology question that I know the Navy is working on.”
The Importance of Trust and Autonomy
“The use of unmanned systems in the underwater domain raises a number of concerns about trust and autonomy. In the air and on land, unmanned systems have been used for a variety of missions, including ISR, ASW, and strike warfare. Lethal effectors continue to have a human in the loop.” Haugen continues, “to be successful, unmanned systems in the underwater domain will need to be able to operate more autonomously than unmanned systems in other domains. A lot of work is going into this space with AI/ML. Despite these challenges, the use of unmanned systems in the underwater domain will become increasingly important in the future. They offer a number of potential advantages, including their relatively low cost, and their now accepted suitability for the dirty, dangerous, and drudging tasks as they operate autonomously.”
“I’m enthusiastic about Forcys and what we can bring to support SSW. I am impressed with our technology partners and their world-leading technology in navigation and positioning systems, acoustic and optical communications, optical and laser imaging, side-scan and forward-looking sonars, intruder detection systems, UUV mission software, and environmental monitoring sensors. The ability to take that and apply it to tough military problems has been very exciting. The need for this technology in SSW is enormous. I am committed to developing teaming relationships with vehicle builders and other technology providers to help support and develop the next generation of Navy undersea warfare capability.
“There is no question. The Navy is committed to investing in UUV technology and it has the personnel and the resources to maintain its dominance. If you are like me, you’d want to give them the best possible chance. We do that with our technology offering.”
If you’d like to know more or want to contact Christian Haugen please contact us.
Held from the April 8th to 10th, 2024 in National Harbor, Maryland, this event is now the largest maritime exposition in the U.S.
Held from the 21st to the 23rd of May 2024 in Farnborough, United Kingdom, this event holds the popular underwater defence and security conference.
The Watch interviewed CMDR Sean Leydon (retired), Regional Manager at Forcys Australia, on the subject of the latest ADF Defence Strategy Review (DSR). The DSR sets out the Australian Government’s strategic direction for defence over the next decade.
Leydon clearly understands the significance of the DSR: “It is clear that the Government is committed to investing in new and innovative technologies, and that the maritime domain will be a key focus of this investment. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the Indo-Pacific maritime domain is becoming increasingly contested, and there is a growing risk of conflict. Second, the maritime domain is critical to Australia’s economic security. Australia is a major exporter of resources, and the maritime domain is essential for the safe and efficient movement of these resources.”
The DSR identifies a number of key areas where Australia needs to invest in order to strengthen its maritime capabilities. These include:
- Uncrewed systems: These have the potential to revolutionize maritime warfare. They can be used for a variety of tasks, including surveillance, reconnaissance, and strike. Australia is investing in the development and procurement of uncrewed systems in order to stay ahead of its adversaries.
- Artificial intelligence: Another key technology that will have a major impact on maritime warfare. AI can be used to improve the performance of uncrewed systems, as well as to develop new capabilities such as autonomous decision-making.
According to Leydon: “The investments that are made in the coming years will have a major impact on Australia’s ability to protect its interests in the maritime domain.”
AUKUS and Pillar 2
AUKUS is a new trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It was announced in September 2021, and its primary goal is to strengthen the three countries’ ability to operate in the Indo-Pacific region. Pillar 2 of AUKUS is focused on key capabilities including undersea warfare. It will involve the three countries working together to develop new and innovative technologies, such as autonomous underwater vehicles. These technologies will be used to improve the three countries’ ability to detect, track, and defeat submarines.
Leydon understands that the importance of undersea warfare cannot be overstated. According to him: ”Submarines are a major threat to surface ships and aircraft. They are also a key asset for countries that are seeking to project power in the maritime domain. The development of new and innovative technologies is essential for maintaining a strong undersea warfare capability and integral to the DSR. AUKUS Pillar 2 will help the three countries to do just that. Under AUKUS Pillar 2 the Undersea Robotics Autonomous Systems (AURAS) project, will pave the way for underwater networks consisting of crewed and uncrewed vessels, or also a networked underwater range enabling the navy to share information and coordinate actions between their vessels. This would allow the Navy to operate more effectively and efficiently and would give it a significant advantage over adversaries.
Leydon continues: ”As you know, uncrewed systems are playing an increasingly important role in maritime warfare. They can be used for a variety of tasks, including surveillance, reconnaissance, and strike. As the maritime domain becomes increasingly contested, uncrewed systems will become even more important. Why is that? Consider this:
- They are less expensive to operate.
- They are less vulnerable to attack.
- They can operate in more dangerous environments.
However, uncrewed systems are not a replacement for crewed systems, they play a complementary role. By working together, crewed and uncrewed systems can provide a more comprehensive and effective maritime warfare capability.”
While the uncrewed systems are attracting a lot of attention, the payloads cannot be underestimated. Leydon explains: “The sensors and effectors provide the capability, the platform delivers it. It’s as simple as that.”
“Obviously, it’s important that the design of the platform meets the overall purpose of the capability, that it’s fit for its purpose, such as a frigate for a medium sized, smaller armed, fast platform compared with a larger destroyer designed for a greater armament.
The same goes for an AUV – it’s important that the payload is not only high quality (such as a multi-Aperture sonar, high quality camera or laser), but its navigation, communications and tracking systems are also high quality and precise allowing it to go where it’s supposed to and find its way back. Ideally, you want both the sensors and platforms to be built using modular designs – this allows for smoother integration of the sensors and makes future upgrades more feasible.
In other cases, a designed platform isn’t even needed. For example, the dropping or strategic placement of underwater sensors will provide you with an acoustic range that can detect an adversary’s AUV, submarine or underwater vehicle.”
Sean recently joined Forcys and is spearheading our Australian efforts, “I think Australia and its UK and US partners have a lot to gain from AUKUS and the technological transfer of capabilities that already exist. The DSR specifically speaks about the Pillar 2 ‘Trilateral delivery’ or joint R&D of enhanced capabilities, this collaboration with companies like Forcys will help provide the ability for all three nations to move forward with information sharing and technology cooperation. I’m especially excited about the opportunities for Forcys with AUKUS Pillar 2 undersea warfare – from the underwater acoustic communication network in Smart Sound Plymouth from our Technology Partners Sonardyne, the world leading intruder detection sonars from Wavefront already deployed with navies around the globe and to our AUV payloads. These are just some of the amazing proven capabilities that Forcys offer.”
Want to find out more or speak to Sean Leydon? Please get in touch.