A radiological weapon discovered on a deep-sea oil drilling platform. Local and federal dive teams joining to salvage a sunken ship.
These were two mock scenarios that Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) personnel assisted with in June as part of the Advanced Naval Technology Exercise and Coastal Trident Port and Maritime Security Program 2021 (ANTX/CT21), which runs from April to September and features discussion-based and operations-based exercises, technical demonstrations and field experiments, all with an eye toward improving the capabilities of the U.S. Navy and its partners to conduct global operations and secure critical maritime infrastructure.
NSWC PHD facilitates the events and conducts them with interagency as well as non-Department of Defense (DOD) partners to accelerate the Navy’s knowledge about developing technologies and their ability to fill operational gaps.
Members of the command have organized and hosted ANTX/CT since 2017. The ANTX component leverages Coastal Trident, an operational research program the Navy and its partners in the public and private sectors introduced in 2007 to address threats to port and maritime security, such as industrial accidents, natural disasters, acts of terrorism and more.
ANTX creates an interface for sharing technical subject matter expertise with interagency partners at the non-DOD federal level as well as state and local levels, as the Navy may need to rely on these partners in a major incident response scenario.
“NSWC PHD is the lead for planning, execution and evaluation for all ANTX-CT21 activities, so we are directly involved in each,” said Brendan Applegate, ANTX/CT21’s lead coordinator and lead for fleet experimentation and exercises. “For some of the remote activities, we will leverage the learning achieved to assess technology applications, effectiveness and suitability.”
The focus areas for this year’s program are: port and maritime incident response; port security and critical infrastructure protection; unmanned systems applications; unmanned systems countermeasures; domain awareness and information dominance; maintenance, supportability, and digital engineering; and maritime communications and data links.
“This year’s themes are similar to last year, but with several projects added to support validation of a future ANTX program dedicated to maintenance and supportability,” Applegate said.
More than 50 projects and 35 topics will be a part of ANTX/CT21. Among those projects are more than a dozen live exercises.
The first exercise, involving a simulated discovery of a mock radiological weapon, took place June 7-8 at Platform Edith, an oil drilling rig off the coast of Huntington Beach, California. The event looped in personnel from the U.S. Marine Corps’ 1st Marine Division, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Maritime Security Response Team-West, and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The agencies responded to the scenario aboard the platform with tactical, HAZMAT, bomb squad and dive teams from small boats and helicopters.
NSWC PHD team members supported several field experiments aligned with the exercise, including one that involved health metric/physiological monitoring of personnel as well as the 3D modeling of underwater environments using underwater remotely-operated vehicles.
“NSWC PHD had a central role in this exercise,” Applegate said. “We met with the organizations involved to understand their training and exercise objectives and identify a venue where they could be achieved. We served as the interface between these teams and DCOR, LLC, the owner/operator of Platform Edith, and assisted in development and approval of the necessary agreements for these teams to access the facility and conduct radiological incident response operations.”
NSWC PHD also assisted with evaluating the event and identified opportunities to improve response capabilities, critical infrastructure security capabilities, technology implementation and the overall exercise design for future programs.
More recently, NSWC PHD assisted with organizing and coordinating a field training exercise that Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center (NAVFAC EXWC) led to test the capabilities of federal and local government dive teams when conducting search and salvage operations following a simulated vessel fire. The exercise used a sunken replica of a ship’s berthing area dropped into the water off of Naval Base Ventura County Wharf 5.
The exercise, which took place June 21-24, involved dive teams from NAVFAC EXWC, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles City Fire Department and Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Los Angeles Port Police Dive Team and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Regional Dive Locker-West. Participants used a diver-augmented vision display, remotely operated underwater vehicles and other unmanned systems to view interior spaces. Those involved also employed sensors for high-resolution underwater surveying and geolocation monitoring.
“Operations below the surface of the sea are inherently married with risk to human life and complications with sophisticated equipment,” said Mark Thompson, NAVFAC EXWC’s Office of Research and Technology manager. “These risks can be mitigated through the collaboration of this very small and specialized community.”
NAVFAC EXWC was able to share and compare its equipment, safety protocols and inspection procedures with multiple agencies along with its own lessons learned. Senior Chief Jim McVicar of NAFVAC EXWC’s Dive Locker, who led the week’s events, specifically reinforced the necessity of observing diver briefings and systematic equipment checks of other organizations.
“Minor adjustments can prevent dead divers and increase mission accomplishment,” Thompson said.
He added that emerging technologies, like augmented reality devices for divers, could greatly increase the situational awareness of the man in the water, and are also force multipliers as they can send vital images, instructions, videos, navigational data and other useful information down the tether to the diver. These technologies help divers enter a scene quickly, safely and efficiently, Thompson said.
“NAVFAC EXWC’s Dive Locker is one of the many potential assets available to first responders during major emergencies through the Defense Support to Civil Authorities Program, which broadens their mission beyond the Navy alone,” Thompson said. “Therefore, this cross-training and exposure to emerging technologies becomes vital to an increasingly variable mission set.”
NAVFAC EXWC will participate in additional exercises during ANTX/CT21, including one next month involving an assessment of a partially submerged structure using a drone that can fly, land on water and submerge and be controlled while sub-surface and sending visual data back to the operator. NAVFAC EXWC representatives also will be on hand for the closing event of ANTX/CT21, which is an open house scheduled for Sept. 22-23, when they will present on environmental contaminant recovery technologies and demonstrate atmospheric water extraction technologies.
“The first day of the open house will be virtual to allow for increased participation by organizations not able to travel by September,” Applegate said. “The rest of the activities will be conducted in-person with local COVID-19 guidelines in place.”
Though COVID-19 restrictions impacted last year’s ANTX/CT, Applegate said this year has been smooth sailing so far.
“The way we design Coastal Trident has allowed us to continue the majority of our activities in the midst of COVID-19 restrictions,” he explained. “Only small groups of people are conducting activities in one place. There are some activities, such as tabletop exercises, that we were able to push toward the end of the year, where local and Department of the Navy COVID restrictions will be relaxed.”
The open house has always been a popular event, Applegate said, because participants meet people they don’t usually connect with and can begin building new relationships and possible future collaborations.
Applegate said as new technologies continue to come into play, annual engagements between the Navy and government labs, private industry and academic research organizations allow those entities to share and test emerging technologies so that they can identify and quickly transition to the fleet opportunities relevant to the needs of the Navy.