A testbed for naval innovation
The Arabian Gulf is a global testbed for naval innovation
Last week the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet and alliance partners launched Digital Horizon 2022, a three-week naval exercise to test and trial the integration of uncrewed surface vessels (USVs), unmanned air systems (UAS), the latest artificial intelligence and data systems, together with crewed naval vessels. It puts the very latest naval AI and unmanned systems from a wide variety of technology developers to the test in real-world conditions, to find out how these new systems work together (or don't).
Digital Horizon is part of the U.S. Navy's effort to create a fleet of more than 100 unmanned craft for its Fifth Fleet area of operations, in cooperation with regional and global partners, to put more 'eyes and ears' on the waters of the Arabian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Red Sea. Following IMX 2022 earlier this year - the largest unmanned maritime exercise in the world, together with traditional naval forces - the latest exercise zooms in on the technology and how to get the most out of it, in close cooperation with industry partners.
Task Force 59, which was formed to accelerate the US Navy's adoption of AI and unmanned systems, has brought together 17 industry partners. Manufacturers include: Aerovel, Easy Aerial, Elbit Systems, Exail (previously iXblue), L3 Harris, Marine Advanced Robotics (part of OPT), MARTAC, Ocean Aero, OCIUS Technology, Open Ocean Robotics, Saildrone, Seasats, SeaTrac and Shield AI.
At least 15 different types of unmanned systems will be used during the Digital Horizon exercise, including 10 systems that the 5th Fleet is using for the very first time.
For example, Digital Horizon will trial high speed, autonomous, unmanned surface vessels such as the custom-built L3 Harris Arabian Fox MAST-13 and MARTAC's T38 Devil Ray. The vessels are both multi-purpose and can be equipped to carry out reconnaisance, interdiction and patrol missions. MARTAC cites the top speed of the T38 as 80 knots (148km).
The exercise also continues the testing of Saildrone's Explorer, a wind and solar-powered unmanned surface vessel developed for autonomous mapping and data collection for maritime security, capable of remaining operational for months at a time. Digital Horizon now adds the solar-powered Data Xplorer from Open Ocean Robotics, which is also capable of collecting ocean data for months at a time.
Digital Horizon will deploy Ocean Aero's TRITON, world's first autonomous underwater and surface vehicle (AUSV), capable of both sailing on the surface and submerging autonomously to collect data both above and below waterline.
Meanwhile, above the waves, Task Force 59 will be operating Shield AI's V-BAT vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and Aerovel's Flexrotor advanced VTOL small tactical unmanned aerial system (STUAS). Both VTOLs are capable of a wide range of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) tasks. The exercise will also use Easy Aerial’s tethered drone (SAMS-T).
However, despite the cutting-edge hardware in the Arabian Gulf, Digital Horizon is far more than a trial of new unmanned systems. This exercise is about data integration and the integration of command and control capabilities, where many different advanced technologies are being deployed together and experimented with for the first time.
Therefore, the planning, development and testing of systems prior to Digital Horizon will be critical to the success of the exercise, as will the support of AI and data services company Big Bear AI and Accenture Federal Services (which has multiple contracts with the U.S. Armed Forces), and the wireless connectivity of Silvus Technologies.
The advanged technologies now available and the opportunities that they bring to enhance maritime security are manyfold, but these also drive an exponential increase in complexity for the military. Using the Arabian Gulf as the laboratory, Task Force 59 and its partners are pioneering ways to manage that complexity, whilst delivering next-level intelligence, incident prevention and response capabilities.
Find out more about unmanned systems in the Arabian Gulf:
Read 'A sea full of robots' in Middle East AI News 30-Jun-22 (Linkedin version)
See Middle East AI News 24-Feb-22 for more on the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet's unmanned systems plans (Linkedin version)
Read more about IMX 2022 in Middle East AI News 10-Feb-22 (Linkedin version)
Read the story in Stars and Stripes on Digital Horizon.
This article first appeared on Linkedin.