NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Sailors assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 1's Marine Mammal detachment participated in the Navy-led exercise Frontier Sentinel 2010 in the western Atlantic Ocean June 4-11.
Frontier Sentinel 2010, a joint interagency exercise boasting elements from the U.S. and Canadian Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard and other U.S. and Canadian agencies, was designed to showcase a bilateral response to maritime homeland defense and security threats.
The exercise consisted of a scenario-driven series of events, in which EODMU 1's Marine Mammal detachment played an integral - though sometimes unseen - role.
"This is the only program of its kind in the Navy. We use the only organic asset in the world that can hunt mines and take them down," said Chief Navy Diver (DSW/EXW) Brandon Ghan, EODMU 1 Marine Mammal Company leading chief petty officer. "We're using bottlenose dolphins for mine hunting operations, and our role in Frontier Sentinel is to hunt and find (simulated) mines in the harbor, to clear a path for ships to exit the Chesapeake Bay."
Frontier Sentinel centers around the coordinated detection, assessment and response to a mining threat in Hampton Roads, Va., which could impede both commercial and military traffic in the Chesapeake Bay, something Ghan said requires the efforts of several different entities.
"This is a multitiered approach," said Ghan. "UUV's [unmanned undersea vehicles] will search and find contacts, we'll search separately and find contacts, and then we go back and double check each other. Then we'll drop markers, and the divers can swim right in and find exactly what has been discovered and identify exactly what the threat is and deal with it."
The unique attributes the bottlenose dolphins possess are integral in effective operations, something evidenced by the significant rate of success the marine mammals have had throughout the exercise, said Ghan.
"The final scores haven't been tabulated, but I know they've done well," said Ghan. "We're the only mobile unit in the Navy to have a mine-hunting marine mammal system, and all the handlers are dedicated to the job."
Sailors serving as handlers for EODMU 1's Marine Mammal Detachment deployed from their command in San Diego, to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek - Fort Story for the exercise. The Sailors train daily with the animals and are familiar with each dolphin's personality and responsiveness. While all EODMU 1 Marine Mammal Company personnel are well-versed in the marine mammal program, a bond exists between certain animals and Sailors, said Ghan.
"Each animal has its own handler; they know that animal in and out," said Ghan. "They're with them training daily, and they're great at what they do."
While the Navy employs other systems to locate and recover underwater objects, hardware-based systems have limitations, something offset by the effectiveness of the bottlenose dolphin's biological sonar, said Ghan.
"Their bio-sonar is incredibly sensitive, and they have a discrimination which computer or UUVs can't match," said Ghan. "They are a great asset; they're very accurate and extremely reliable. They're very good at their jobs, and they save lives and money."
The Sailors assigned to EODMU 1 fall under the command of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 1, and they make up part of the overall Marine Mammal Systems Program. Under the umbrella of the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, elements of the Navy Marine Mammal Program are capable of rapid deployment, and include a team of Sailors, civilians and Army veterinarian personnel to ensure training, animal health and medical care requirements are observed.
While the Navy's Marine Mammal Program mission capabilities continue to expand, the impetus behind the program's involvement in Frontier Sentinel stems from the very real concept of a waterborne threat in a heavily trafficked harbor, something mitigated by the unique capabilities animals with the Marine Mammal Program bring, said Ghan.
"Homeland defense has become more prevalent in what we do," said Ghan. "The threat of having one of our own harbors mined has become a real threat, and the mammals are perfect assets for this. We're deployable within 72 hours, so at a moment's notice we can show up in one of our own harbors and render it safe pretty quickly."
Approximately 2,500 Canadian and U.S. military personnel and government civilian agencies participated in Frontier Sentinel 2010.
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