ABOARD THE NARCOSIS — Far out in the Gulf where the condominiums along Panama City Beach resemble Monopoly pieces, scientists and Navy personnel on Monday showed off how the Navy is using unmanned underwater vehicles.
Researchers offload an unmanned underwater vehicle into the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City Beach Monday during the first day of a two-week exercise. Dozens of researchers are testing the effectiveness of various unmanned underwater vehicles for the U.S. Navy designed for sub-surface mapping or searching for mines.
Terry Barner / The News Herald
The Office of Naval Research, Mine Countermeasures, Science and Technology is spending the next two weeks testing the new technology just beyond St. Andrew Bay. “These are things we preprogram, put in the water to conduct specific missions,” Lt. Commander James Coleman said. “The equipment that is out at sea was designed for mine countermeasure.” Coleman said sea mine deployment is not only significant for war; the U.S. Navy had to clear mines off the Libyan coast to allow humanitarian aid to get to the people there. “We want to keep people out of the minefields and this is where that new technology comes in,” Coleman said.
These underwater vehicles will be utilized by the Littoral Combat Ship, which is destined to be a key member of the Navy’s fleet. Littoral ships are a Navy surface combatant equipped with modular “plug-and-fight” mission packages and designed to operate in dangerous, shallow or near-shore environments while in enemy seas. This LCS will be equipped with “modules,” which look like a small shipping container that can be installed and removed as the LCS is refitted for whatever mission it is assigned.
Coleman said many of the underwater vehicles being utilized were still in the developmental stages.
As the Narcosis held its space off shore Monday, a small boat with all types of equipment aboard pulled alongside. The boat unloaded an underwater vehicle that is about 10 to 12 feet long, designed to scour the bottom of the ocean for mines or, really, anything it wants to. It looked like a toy as it moved out to sea. “We have one that is 33 feet long,” said Sam Taylor, who leads the Automation Dynamics and Special Programs at the Navy base.
The technology also can be used to map harbors. The underwater vehicle essentially will allow observers to gain information about what is on the sea floor.
Naval Surface Warfare Panama City engineer Jeremy Hatcher of Lynn Haven, right, uses a joystick to control motorized carriers for two different unmanned underwater vehicles, left background, inside a testing bay Monday. The devices would be used to manuever the vehicles on land or aboard the Littoral Combat Ship being developed by the U.S. Navy. Terry Barner / The News Herald
Back on the base, Dale Rhinehart, a project manager at the Navy base, is utilizing all kinds of technological advances, as he develops technologies that will make life easier onboard the Littoral Combat Ship.
“We have been focusing specifically on the LCS application,” Rhinehart said. “However, it has applications anywhere for things that need to be moved in tight spaces. There is a huge commercial use in this application, as well.”
The event is being hosted by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division.