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The joint team tested the technology during a simulated high-value escort to gauge the response of the unmanned vessel. The UD-GARC has the potential to serve in a counterterrorism role, mitigating and eliminating threats to military vessels operating at sea.
“The technology displayed by UD-GARC and [Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre] FN weapons system allows Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) Forces to perform normal force protection measures that they are tasked with more efficiently and safely while bringing an increased level of lethality if needed,” said Master Chief Explosive Ordnance Technician Jay Wheeler, NECC Concepts, Technology and Integration department. “The capabilities we saw demonstrated by the GARC and FN America during Solid Curtain were extremely successful.”
The vessel’s semi-autonomous nature could potentially keep personnel a safe distance from dangerous situations. The UD-GARC can be outfitted with various payloads, including a remote weapons system (RWS) controlled from a different location. The RWS, coupled with an advanced range system, could conceivably offer end users leverage in an environment that is perpetually changing.
The RWS is not specific to the UD-GARC and could be mounted on other static and mobile platforms, allowing users to locate and engage threats from a distance.
“Anytime we can put unmanned things in between the bad guys and us, we can keep our people safe,” said Paul Seiffert, principal engineer for Maritime Applied Physics Corporation. “Using UD-GARC allows for less chance for vehicle born IEDs to go off and we can still accomplish our mission. It also reduces manning, so less crew fatigue and less cost to the Navy in the long run.”
Seiffert went on to explain that the UD-GARC’s possible integration into the fleet would be based on feedback from operators, using the Solid Curtain exercise to identify potential improvements.
Ultimately, Seiffert said, he would like to see users in future exercises apply lessons learned from today to improve upon parts of the system that that may require attention.
The UD-GARC was configured with other technologies during the exercise, including an auto-targeting system as well as an advanced range finder. These tools could potentially allow the system to detect danger or vessels that may pose a threat.
“Today, we ran through four exercises where we identified, tracked and targeted hostiles,” said Gabriel Rizk, Naval Surface Warfare Center - Dahlgren Division robotics engineer. “Everything worked well together and GARC benefited by using our laser range finding technology. We have 360-degree vision and the ability to cover air, space and water,” Rizk added.
Sailors within MSRON 4 served as the opposing force (OPFOR) during the exercise, which enabled a realistic high-value escort testing scenario for the UD-GARC. The goal of the testing was to measure the difference between automated and human responses to better understand the overall viability of the system.
“I’m hoping that the GARC can eventually do everything that we do,” said Quartermaster 3rd Class Zaria Geiger, MSRON 4 coxswain. “With the implementation of the GARC, there isn’t anyone physically on the vessel, and we are just controlling it from afar.”
The UD-GARC could potentially become a force multiplier. The system’s remote operation requires minimal manning, allowing sailors that would normally be needed for operation to handle other mission critical tasks.
“We usually have four-man boat crews consisting of a coxswain, navigator, engineer and crewman,” said Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Abigal Keiper, a coxswain with MSRON 4. “Each of those capabilities run pieces of the boat crew. With the unmanned vessel, the personnel operating it are at a different location, so it relieves the potential of a man made or medical emergencies onboard.”
Appropriate personnel from the Navy will analyze the results of the exercise to determine the best course of action for the technology.
“The capability and capacity that an unmanned boat brings to not just NECC, but the Navy, Coast Guard and our partners operating at sea will continue to be tested and discovered,” said Wheeler. “I believe we have just begun to witness what this technology will allow us to do in the future.”
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