Navy Plans Expeditionary Underwater EOD Robot for 2019 Development
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The Navy plans to increase its capability for underwater mine clearance by funding development of an expeditionary underwater explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) response robot in fiscal 2019, a Navy official said.
“We want to be able to provide a standoff with a robotic system,” said Brian Almquist, a program manager at the Office of Naval Research (ONR), moderating a panel on advanced undersea technology in support of EOD operations July 20 at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. “We want to be able to do complex tasks underwater.”
Almquist said the EOD community has had success in integrating robots for EOD on land, such as against improvised explosive devices, but “these successes have not yet extended to underwater response.”
He said most EOD robotics to date have focused in search and detect, and that now is the time to focus on neutralization of underwater mines by robots.
Almquist stressed that the Navy’s goal is to reduce hazards to EOD personnel while speeding up the detect-to-response timeline, and that “the EOD operator always is in the loop.”
Another panelist, Capt. Jeff McCauley, deputy resources and requirements officer at Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, noted that mine countermeasures is a very people-centric — as opposed to platform-centric — warfare specialty and that “we have to be very careful about no man-in-the-loop.”
Retired Capt. Glenn Allen, former mine warfare requirements officer and former commander of U.S. Fifth Fleet’s mine-countermeasures task force, said that the response robot “is the next logical step” of the mine countermeasures “find, fix, and finish mission.”
The Navy is looking at technology to neutralize mines, such as those attached to ship hulls by divers, without inflicting collateral damage, including back-scatter X-ray devices or ultrasounds to image the interior technology of mines, and breaking apart mines by insertion of reactive materials.
“In mine warfare, time is the key variable,” said panel member Cmdr. Robert “Jeremy” Wheat, commanding officer of EOD Mobile Group One, noting that the Navy is trying to streamline the detect-to engage timeline. He said there is no interaction between the Mark 18 Mod 1 and Mod 2 unmanned underwater vehicles in current use and no way to interact with the data collected until it is analyzed post-recovery.
“We’ve applied human-machine teaming,” said another panelist, Capt. John Moulton, commander of EOD Group Two, noting that the Navy needs to speed up processing and providing information for decision-makers.
Moulton said underwater imaging systems such as side-scan sonars have advanced mine-hunting capabilities.
He stressed to industry representatives in the audience that, regarding mine-countermeasures systems, “if it’s small enough, light enough, everybody is going to want to use it.”