The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is seeking white papers and full proposals describing innovative technology solutions that will enable the Navy to develop an Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV)-based system capable of conducting the three phases of mine hunting operations - mine detection/classification, identification, and neutralization - in a single sortie, to potentially be incorporated as part of a future Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) MCM mission package. There are two distinct but strongly connected new technology products described in this BAA that work together to enable effective planning and conduct of USV-based mine countermeasures (MCM) operations in shallow water environments. These two technology products are:
Product Area 1 - The SS-DTE MCM Payload, will contain the components needed for deployment and retrieval of UUVs, as well as the launch of mine neutralizers aboard a USV, a UUV sustainment system, an interface with the LCS communication system, associated autonomy/automation required to accomplish the SS-DTE task, and the software architecture and software planning tools necessary for payload management and coordinated behaviors.
Product Area 2 - The capability for neutralization of near-surface floating and drifting mines. The primary investment will be to develop the technologies to support a UUV-based capability to prosecute near-surface floating and drifting mines; however, the neutralization system must also be capable of prosecuting bottom and volume mines.
As appropriate, this development will utilize a Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA) for all components of this effort. Ongoing assessment during development cycles will determine level(s) of system openness that best facilitate transition. This will allow upgrades and integration of software components with minimal effort as the roles and capabilities of the USV and its assets improve. The following two subsections describe the SS-DTE MCM payload and neutralization technology products in further detail.
It should be noted that this effort is not developing a new USV or UUV, but is focused on developing critical technologies that support Product Areas 1 and 2.
1. SS-DTE MCM Payload. The SS-DTE MCM Payload will contain the equipment needed for deployment and retrieval of multiple classes of UUVs as well as the launch of mine neutralizers aboard a USV and the associated autonomy/automation needed to accomplish this task. Additionally, it is anticipated that the payload could support operations using tethered MCM sensors. All functionality of the SS-DTE MCM payload will be controlled and coordinated by a Payload Manager (PM), which must provide the capability to autonomously allocate its assets to perform the MCM mission. The mission will be autonomously executed; however, human operators aboard the LCS will be provided new/updated mission plans, system status updates, and terminal target information for review, and can intervene if required. Human operators will initiate the mine destruction action during the last phase of this mission. The PM will also provide necessary commands to the USV as well as packaging and handling data transfer to the LCS communications system (communications system development is not part of this effort). The SS-DTE USV payload will incorporate an advanced capability for neutralization of near-surface floating and drifting mines, utilizing target cuing from airborne sensors (described in the following technology product).
For purposes of initial system definition of SS-DTE, the notional system consists of a 40 ft. USV host craft that carries 4 lightweight UUVs and supporting gear for deployment and retrieval (D&R), UUV sustainment, up to 24 expendable neutralizers, and payload management, and data processing. Notionally, two of the UUVs would be configured for bottom search operations, where the remaining two UUVs would be configured for both
volume search and for Reacquisition - Identification (RI) missions. After each mission phase, raw data would be extracted from the UUVs following recovery to the USV, and this data would be processed onboard the USV. Data products will be transmitted to the LCS for Operator-based assessments.
The deliverables under this technology product will be a Deployment and Retrieval System (DRS) and associated autonomy/automation, payload sustainment capabilities to support rapid energy replenishment and data transfer, a Payload Management capability to support all operations associated with the mission, and an Open Architecture design that is intended to eventually include all subsystems.
2. Neutralization of Near-Surface Floating and Drifting Mines The SS-DTE payload will support the deployment of a tethered mine neutralization system. The long term vision of the Navy, however, is for the development of an un-tethered, expendable neutralizer, designed in a manner to minimize unit cost. This system would be used to autonomously destroy mines that have been previously detected and localized by a mine-hunting system. To this end, this technology product will focus on the development of a neutralizer test bed, and enabling technologies, that can be demonstrated as both a man-in-the-loop tethered system, as well as an autonomous, un-tethered system. The deliverables under this technology product will be a neutralization test bed platform, along with enabling navigation and sensing capabilities that support autonomous destruction of mine targets located at any point in the water column, from the surface to the ocean floor. The near surface and drifting mine prosecution will be executed with 'real or near real time' target data from a sensor suite either USV or aerial platform based (this queuing technology is not part of this development). An additional capability to conduct automated Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) will also be developed under this technology area (see Task 8).