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NEWS | Sept. 30, 2019

US Joins NATO Navies in Portugal to Experiment with Emerging Technologies in Unmanned Maritime Systems

By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Travis Simmons

U.S, European Navy and NATO partners, completed the first Recognized Environmental Picture augmented by Maritime Unmanned Systems REP (MUS) experimentation exercise hosted by the Portuguese Navy in territorial waters near Lisbon, Sept. 11-27, 2019.

Sailors from the Naval Oceanographic Mine Warfare Center assigned to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, and Underwater Construction Team 1 from Navy Expeditionary Task Force Europe and Africa (CTF 68) led by the officer in charge of U.S. 6th Fleet (C6F) Mine Countermeasures (MCM), Detachment Rota to participated in REP(MUS) alongside Belgium, Italy, Poland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the NATO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation and Naval Mine Warfare Centre of Excellence.

“REP (MUS) 19 provided CTF 68 a great opportunity to participate in NATO’s largest maritime

unmanned systems exercise, supporting our fleet commander’s priorities to strengthen capability and interoperability,” said Cmdr. Oliver Herion. “This was also C6F MCM Detachment Rota’s first opportunity to deploy unmanned underwater vehicles recently acquired through the European Deterrence Initiative.” 

The exercise highlighted the joint and combined capability of the U.S. with allied and partner forces to ensure that U.S. and partner nations have the modern, competitive capabilities to ensure freedom of navigation and deter malign actors.

“The overall purpose of REP (MUS) 19 was to bring together academia, industry, and military participants from multiple NATO member nations to test new maritime unmanned systems technologies in order to improve interoperability, learn together, and to accelerate the adoption of unmanned maritime systems into NATO,” said John Stastny, Office of Naval Research global science advisor to U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/C6F.      

U.S. unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) ran missions during the exercise and their data was transferred to partner navies to help assist with planning and maritime situational awareness.

“The exercise was designed to facilitate testing of interoperability between systems at multiple levels, including mission planning, communications, command and control, and data exploitation and exchange,” said Stastny. “For the U.S. Navy, this was the first time we tested the Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) on a U.S. guided-missile destroyer, or an allied nation's vessel. TALONS allows a payload to be elevated above a vessel and provides increased field of regard for either sensors or communications.”

During a distinct demonstration day, Sept. 20, these technologies were put on full display. Unmanned underwater, surface and air vehicles from NATO countries were showcased and their capabilities and accomplishments highlighted. Portugal also flew a vertical takeoff, vertical landing unmanned aerial vehicle during a mock close quarters battle.

“At the tactical level, the combined U.S. Navy team seamlessly integrated with NATO allies from Belgium, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Turkey to conduct complex UUV searches at multiple sites around Troia and Sesimbra, Portugal,” said Herion. “At operational and experimentation levels, it was great to see UUV mission data displayed in the maritime operations center to inform the battle staff and help influence the commander’s decisions.”

During the exercise, participants shared tactics, techniques, and procedures to further technological advances with our partner navies.

“During the exercise we were able to showcase the ability for various countries to work in tandem with each other while accomplishing the same mission,” said Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class Michael McCown, deployed from the Naval Oceanographic Mine Warfare Center. “The best part about the partnership was that we were able to share data quickly.”

The NATO allies operated together with new technologies experimenting and proving effective command and control communication networks in the maritime environment. 

“The experiences and new relationships developed at REP (MUS) 19 increased readiness and interoperability, and lessons learned will help shape MCM experimentation in exercise BALTOPS 2020,” said Herion.

U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests, and promote security and stability in Europe and Africa.