Mammals, Drones and Darts: The future of protecting critical infrastructure in the Gulf

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Technological advances make life better, more interesting, more sustainable, more defensible, and what have you. Advances, from my perspective, come from building on established ideas and filling a need (new or re-invented), or mimicking observable phenomenon. In today’s post, I aim to discuss a few of these types of innovation, examples in technology, and a few notes on why this matters from a Navy and global community perspective.

Sound like a lot to cover? Yeah, to me too, so let us get started.

Mimicry

One of the biggest idea generators is the world around us and our desire to explore it. The desire to fly as birds do led to manned flight. Sure, the first flight lasted less than a minute, could only hold one person (a bicycle mechanic), and was powered by a buggy motor; but thousands of years of desire and failure were quenched by a few equations, an internal combustion engine and a few very big dreams. Want to see what’s going on underwater? Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Want to see what’s on the sea floor? Submarines and unmanned underwater vehicles. Investigate things that are too dangerous for people? Robots.

Enduring FreedomWhile people are able to duplicate useful systems like sonar for echo location, the ability to send and receive multiple tonals with the same device and analyze the data in seconds becomes a complicated problem. Add in the small size and agility of a dolphin or a porpoise, and the level of sophistication required is daunting.

Why not just train a dolphin to do it? Good question. Fact is the U.S. Navy does train marine mammals to perform tasks that would take a team of well-trained people to do, and possibly several days to do it. Dolphins are very intelligent animals and are capable of quickly identifying underwater objects and people, deftly maneuvering in tight spaces to reach them, and can repeatedly dive deeply without the dangers of decompression sickness.

Robert Simmons, Navy Underwater EOD Assistant Program Manager, said during IMCMEX 13 MIP Symposium, “Mammals are particularly well suited for precision location in a cluttered acoustic environment.” He went on to say that mammals are also the “only asset capable of detecting, marking and neutralizing partially buried or buried mines.”

2dudes and a dolphinThe use of mammals is not new, but with mine countermeasures re-emerging as a global focus, these agile, capable animals may again become a staple of our identifying and marking potential subsurface hazards. Additional information on the mammals used and the mandates that govern their treatment can be found on NNMP’s data-rich website.

Filling a Need and Re-purposing

Items like remote controls and toasters are good examples of things made convenient by decreasing the effort of achieving a result. While toasting bread over a fire or on a pan achieves the same result as resistance heated coils in close proximity to bread that is time limited by a heat sensitive thermocouple. The difference lies in the rheostat that adjusts the heat/time limit based on the signal sent by the thermocouple, allowing people to “set and forget” while still getting made-to-order toast.

8779354149_53ea5cacbe_zUUVs in relation to mine hunting serve a similar role: increasing convenience and safety while decreasing effort. The REMUS UUV was developed in the late 1990s by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The U.S. Navy calls REMUS the MK 18 UUV, an underwater autonomous surveillance and reconnaissance vehicle that operates on a pre-programmed path for hours and surfaces at a set time at a set location with an enormous data packet on the acoustic survey of a harbor or waterway. This allows a small boat with 2 or 3 crew members to do in a day what it would take a team or two of divers a month to do. Sure, divers (or specialized submersibles) are still needed to identify suspicious targets and neutralize threats, but the amount of man hours needed to search an area is drastically reduced.

Additionally, the Navy is developing Knifefish, a heavyweight Surface Mine Countermeasure (SMCM) UUV that is designed to hunt for buried mines and mines in high clutter environments with high confidence and low false alarm rates. Knifefish Flight 1 is equipped with low frequency broadband side scan sonar and operates in the littoral regions as part of the Littoral Combat Ship MCM Mission Package.

e6d625bbd7b14cad9425bdb4a22a074f-0x0Want a robot to visually identify and make a threat go boom? We’ve got those too (and so do other nations). SeaFox is a mine neutralization submersible that has been adopted by the U.S. Navy and is being tested to replace/augment the older mine neutralization vehicles that are much larger and less sophisticated. The SeaFox system can be used to visibly identify and neutralize objects of interest, previously located by sonar from ships or other UUV systems.

Sailors are still a part of this equation, whether piloting the Sea Fox with more fidelity or analyzing the data transmitted, but this remote system provides an enhanced level of convenience and safety during mine hunting operations that have become integral to the way the mine countermeasure mission is accomplished.

Innovation

Innovation has been described many different ways by people far more educated than I am. That being said, I am going to talk about a common concept and attack it from a different direction. Take the 90’s and 2000’s wave of making cell phones smaller, easier to text, etc. The team at Apple, made phones bigger and turned them into interactive personal computing devices that happen to make phone calls.

How’s that for left field? The story’s been told enough times that it’s commonplace, but the innovation of that team is undeniable.

As for mines, and mine neutralization, we focus on approaching the problem mainly with surface and subsurface assets and technology (some mentioned above). Aside from the sweeping and hunting gear that an MH-53 helicopter drags through the water, there isn’t much of an air-based MCM capability. Until now.

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Researchers are developing air-dropped munitions that can neutralize mines in the surf zone, and even inland. The aerial Assault Breaching System (ABS) Countermine System (CMS) deploys dart-like projectiles that can render mines ineffective while naval forces and shipping vessels wait a safe distance away. This system also has the potential to neutralize other targets.

The Horizon

Cool things are in the works all the time. Rail guns and Lasers at sea have gotten some attention lately, but for MCM and MIP, unmanned vehicles and airborne response options are where it’s at. 41 countries from all over the world gathered for the sixth Maritime Infrastructure Protection Symposium this year, and got to talk with technology representatives about new systems and new developments with old systems like the ones mentioned above. This conference is held every 18 months and is a critical forum to exchange ideas so that infrastructure protection and mine countermeasures can outpace the capabilities of hostile actors.

Hope you enjoyed the not-so-terse tour of tech.

–Fleet LT

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Adding Industry to a Military Exercise is Good for the Environment

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IMCMEX is a multinational, defense-based military exercise aimed to address and counter threats in the maritime environment. Industry operates a crucial energy trade and 30% of the world’s crude flows through the 5th Fleet area of responsibility. So how could military and industry combining efforts be good for the environment? Teamwork of course.

FactoryEmerging and established economies the world over have an energy dependency on fossil fuels, some less than others, but the fact remains that with such a large demand these energy sources must be carried in large volumes to help keep operating and transport costs low. Nearly 1/3 of all energy consumed comes from oil or refined oil products, and in 2012 reached 88 million barrels per day (1 barrel = 42 U.S. gallons). With all of this oil being pulled from the ground, all over the world, and transported to the countries that require it, there are remarkably few accidents, spills or explosions throughout the process.

effectofoilspillMany would say that even one incident a year, a decade is disastrous to the environment, and they would be right. Though an industrial scale accident, or losing a supertanker to a mine or similar attack, would affect oil prices somewhat; the price of one tanker (aprox. $120M ship + $55M in oil) is relatively inconsequential to the global oil trade (aprox. $9bn/day). The environment is not so lucky.

NOAA_oilspill_1The international shipping community has significantly reduced the number of marine spills over the last decade. Even with this dramatic reduction the prevention of these events must remain a priority. One tanker full of oil can be devastating to coastal and marine wildlife in the short-term, and can change entire ecosystems if not addressed and rectified. There can be many contributors to a spill, be it accidental, malfunction or an act of violence; and several can be prevented. This is why industry training with global militaries is good for the environment.

8267579164_4e311fb809_cA significant portion of IMCMEX 13’s agenda is focused on maritime security operations, to include a commercial shipping escort through a simulated mine field. While mines are not the only form of attack these merchant ships are vulnerable to (waterborne IEDs, explosive laden small boats, piracy, etc.), it is a demonstration of the preventable disaster that would adversely affect the environment. Similar events are being held at offshore oil stations as part of a maritime infrastructure protection focus against violent extremists damaging or controlling important infrastructure in the region.

It is far easier to prevent an environmental disaster than to clean it up, and the Oil Spill Response Seminar and table-top exercise during IMCMEX was designed to address protection and prevention concerns, and how to mobilize an effective response to an oil spill should prevention efforts fail.

oil-spill-clean-up-2Alex Walker, a representative of industry for the exercise, led the Oil Spill Response discussion. During the multiple presentations, agencies like a UK-based Oil Spill Service Center based, Navy Coordination and Guidance At Sea and the Maritime Liaison Office; leaders covered international policy, safety of life at sea, communication challenges between militaries, agencies and industry, and what mariners can do at each level of the problem to preserve life and minimize the effects that a damaged crude carrier would have on the environment and other shipping.

Walker went on to comment during an interview that any response effort is about the safety of people and the environment. “The Navy has always taken environmental concerns very seriously,” Walker said. “This forum gives us the opportunity to explore that aspect in more detail.”

Oil spills are complicated. Their behavior relies on  surface tension of the oil product, specific gravity of the product, the viscosity and multiple environmental factors (an overview of behavior and effects).  To make things harder, oil characteristics and environmental factors dictate what response options would be most effective in treating the crisis (a simple interactive guide). These responses take a great deal of cooperation and coordination and Oil Spill Response discussions like in IMCMEX 13 are crucial to an effective, international, military and industry combined response.

While safety of mariners is paramount, concern for how we are affecting the environment is ever-present.

More information about oil spill response is available via the U.S. EPA and NOAA  response pages, as well as International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation and many other pages.

-Fleet LT

The Benefit of Big Meetings: MIPS

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Meetings are designed to share information. Whether its superior to subordinate to give direction and orders, subordinate to superior to upload finished tasks or issues to the higher eschelon brain space, or even to generate a communal thought through brainstorming and collaboration; these are all part of an information exchange process that has occured since earliest life developed ways to communicate and work together.

dispersants7Big meetings, like those between corporations, agencies and militaries are no different. At their base level, they are an information exchange, but on a massive scale. True, these types of gatherings tend toward the brainstorm and communal thought area of exchange, but that is a great thing when it comes to military and inter-agency meetings. Sharing best practices, techniques, and technology for endeavors like Maritime Infrastructure Protection leads to a general increase of knowledge and ability across assembled participants.

While world militaries are not best known for sharing, for concerns like piracy and Infrastructure Protection; a coordinated, multinational response is vital to protect commercial and military assets from threats in the maritime environment. This need for cooperation and coordination are what drive gatherings such as the Maritime Infrastructure Protection Symposium (MIPS).

mmsThis year marks the sixth MIPS here in Bahrain, and this year 130 participants from 41 countries and multiple industry’s attended from 13 – 15 May, as part of International Mine Countermeasures Exercise. Information, best practices and technology were shared via presentations, static displays and expert panels. Presentations included Liquid Natural Gas Shipping and Safety Concerns, unmanned underwater vehicle developments, Cyber Threats to Maritime Infrastructure, Law of Naval Mining, Marine Mammal Systems, and Oil Spill Response: Security Considerations and Overview of International Response Systems to name a few.

AXR_0816The panel of senior leaders included Vice Adm. John Miller, commander, Naval Surface Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet, Combined Maritime forces; 2 GCC navy officials and 2 representatives of industry participants. They primarily discussed the importance of maritime cooperation at sea; oil spill response and threats to energy carriers; and information exchange between military, agency and industry partners to enhance the effectiveness and timliness of coordinated efforts.

AXR_0601While no physical forces were moved, no rounds fired, and little money spent; Symposiums and large-scale meetings bring to light national and international concerns, act as a venue for adressing them, and pave the way for solving them should concerns become a reality.

Meetings don’t have to be tedious or boring. When the international community meets to discuss security concerns, they certainly have my interest.

-Fleet LT