Posted: February 6, 2018 2:10 PM

Navy Oceanographers: More Autonomous Surface Vehicles Needed

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Naval Meteorological and Oceanography Command (NMETOC) has put a priority on adding more autonomous unmanned surface vehicles to its fleet, an NMETOC official said.

Speaking Feb. 6 at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s Defense, Protection and Security event, Dr. William Burnett, deputy commander and technical director of NMETOC, said the command has procured all of its gliders and autonomous underwater vehicles, but now is putting a priority on “getting more autonomous surface vehicles into our fleet.”

Burnett noted that the command operates only six Pathfinder-class oceanographic survey ships but needs twice as many to meet the coverage demands. Autonomous surface vehicles could provide a force multiplier that would enable NMETOC to cover more ocean with its force.

Burnett focused on the possibility of using the Sea Hunter medium-displacement unmanned surface vehicle — built by Leidos — one of which is going through experimentation by the Navy in San Diego. A second Sea Hunter will be built in Gulfport, Miss., near the headquarters of NMETOC.

“We would like to use the system,” Burnett said. “We need unmanned surface vehicles to collect data.”

The meteorological, bathymetric, hydrographic and oceanographic data collected by NMETOC by its sensors and platforms, as well as by other systems, is used to provide up-to-date data for use by combat forces to plan and execute operations as safely and effectively as possible. The command’s goal is to enable distributed data collection and provide distributed predictive capability to drive the distributed maritime fight.

“The environment gets a vote,” Burnett said of the factors that influence the waging of war. “One asymmetric advantage the U.S. Navy has that nobody else has in naval oceanography.”

He stressed that the United States prefers fighting overseas in an “away game” and that unmanned systems enable that concept.

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