KEYPORT, Wash. (NNS) -- Although the Iraqi regime collapsed quickly in the face of advancing coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom, their small naval force sowed the narrow Khor Abd Allah waterway with enough explosives to wreak havoc on any vessel trying to reach the supply port of Umm Qasr.
The Navy's Special Clearance Team (NSCT) 1, along with Royal Navy and Australian forces, handled the task of exploratory mine hunting in March to render the port safe for incoming humanitarian aid shipments.
Various aspects of the missions were recently discussed by Cmdr. Tony Rodgers, NSCT-1 commanding officer, at the Autonomous Unmanned Vehicle Festival (AUV Fest) 2003, held at Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport, Wash., Aug. 11-22.
The AUV Fest showcased the upcoming new generation of innovations concerning unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), AUV and mechanical high-tech marvels, from torpedo-shaped drones to miniature multipurpose robots.
"The UUVs are a great tool for application of what we had to do regarding mine detection and clearance," said Rodgers. "We certainly didn't expect anyone to shoot at us, but environmentally, what we had to do was a lot more difficult than initially anticipated."
NSCT-1 accomplished the mission with the aid of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV). They also conducted UUV operations further up the river at Az Zubayr and Karbala, Iraq.
NSCT-1's primary mission is to conduct low-visibility underwater mine and obstacle reconnaissance and clearance operations from over the horizon to the seaward edge of the surf zone. The port of Umm Qasr and associated waterways presented the team with a lot to deal with such as sediment, accumulated debris, and an above average collection of flotsam and jetsam that had to be thoroughly searched.
"We used the Remote Environmental Measurement Units Support (REMUS) UUV," explained Rodgers. The REMUS UUV is a two-man portable unit that weighs approximately 80 pounds and is specifically designed to classify and map ocean bottoms.
"Although the REMUS UUV does not get press like the dolphins do, we did use it to help hunt out mines. Our job was to determine the presence or absence of mines, as well as be prepared for similar short notice tasking elsewhere with our coalition partners."
According to Rodgers, his team went into action by initially checking the bottom for mines, then branched out having the divers conduct tactile searches of the quay wall out into the surrounding water to determine any possible mine burial zones.
"Imagine if a truck pulled up to the edge, and then a load of mines were tossed into the water. Our job is to find and locate exactly where those mines would go under such a scenario," described Rodgers.
One of the main challenges in their exploratory mine hunting operation was dealing with tidal extremes of up to 15 feet between high and low tides, and the pull of currents up to five knots. There were also sandstorms that made visibility murky on land, as well as deposited silt and sediment along the wharfs, piers and moorings of the old port city.
In all, NSCT-1 conducted 10 missions in the waters off Umm Qasr covering a total of 2.5 million square meters. They discovered and marked 97 man-made objects and shapes, each of which had to be investigated -- even if they turned out to be rusty anchors or old truck tires.
In all three locations, a useful by-product of their underwater work was that the data they collected was shared with the Port and Maritime Registry, which will help them in much needed pending dredging operations.
"We even supplied the identification of some unknown wrecks under there by using the UUVs," Rodgers noted.
NSCT-1's mission proved that by using UUVs in actual field work in difficult wartime conditions, they were able to achieve their military objective and also provide valuable environmental and oceanographic data that will be just as invaluable in the days to come.
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