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CHIPS Articles: Naval Oceanography Using RIMPAC ’18 to Take Next Step in ASW

Naval Oceanography Using RIMPAC ’18 to Take Next Step in ASW
By George Lammons, Naval Information Forces - August 3, 2018
STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. — The Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command’s (NMOC) newly published strategic plan focuses on people, capabilities and innovations. The plan’s priorities are driving NMOC’s participation in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise this year by using new an innovative techniques to exploit the environment in the undersea domain. RIMPAC is the world’s largest maritime exercise.

“Naval Oceanography’s role in RMPAC is critical in delivering physical battlespace awareness in the future. It starts with us. This year we approached the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) portion of the exercise with new technology, techniques and procedures for supporting the Navy’s ASW fight. Our team of 2,500 Sailors and civilians is excited to show our partners the knowledge and experience and expertise we offer the anti-submarine warfare problem,” said Rear Adm. John Okon, NMOC commander.

NMOC’s mission is to understand and exploit the the physical environment, from the bottom of the ocean to the stars, to ensure the U.S. Navy has the freedom of action to deter aggression, maintain freedom of the seas and win wars. The command is providing the capability for all all participating U.S. and foreign assets at RIMPAC. All facets of the NMOC-sponsored innovations supporting this year’s RIMPAC exercise are intended to push forward the fleet commander’s ability to fully exploit the environment for tactical advantage.

Naval Oceanography is putting significant effort toward innovations in ASW for the exercise. Naval oceanographers deploy and operate sensors in the water and assimilate the data into high performance computer ocean models to define acoustic ranges that are crucial for the planning and execution of ASW operations. Physical conditions in the ocean – temperature, salinity, fronts and eddies – affect the way sound travels in the water. Understanding locations and boundaries of those conditions as well as their predicted changes are vital to ASW commanders in pinpointing the location of submarines and prosecuting them during the exercise.

Cmdr. Scott Miller, the command’s RIMPAC coordinator, said that Naval Oceanography is taking a three-step strategic approach to this year’s RIMPAC exercise. First, oceanographers and acousticians will find oceanographic areas that have the most uncertainty in locating and prosecuting submarines. Second, they will employ the right oceanographic sensors and instruments to improve the knowledge of the environment that is creating uncertainty. Third, the command uses high performance computers to assess the performance of the instruments and models to improve submarine detection and future performance.

“We want to address the anti-submarine warfare sensing plan strategically – ‘what [information] do we want to get out of this area and what is the best way – best tools – to do it?’ Our sensors are a big part of RIMPAC, and we are taking advantage of RIMPAC deployment opportunities to practice deploying and retrieving new types of oceanographic sensors,” Miller said.

This includes surface deployment of ocean instruments by surface combatants, support ships and C-130 aircraft plus groundbreaking deployment of ocean profiling floats from P-3 and P-8 aircraft.

Naval Oceanography uses geospatial tools and analyses to locate areas that have not been sampled by oceanographic instruments over long periods of time. This uncertainty translates to reduced capabilities in knowledge of submarine operations in those areas. To reduce these uncertainties, appropriate sensing plans are developed and reapidly employed. For the RIMPAC exercise, three ocean gliders, 11 profiling floats, and four surface drifters were deployed to thoroughly observe the oceanographic conditions in different RIMPAC operating areas.

Ocean gliders are unmanned underwater vehicles used to collect a variety of oceanographic data. For RIMPAC, USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) deployed these gliders, which are then maneuvered by the Naval Oceanographic Office’s (NAVOCEANO) Glider Operations Center at Stennis Space Center, Miss. Each glider is modular in design and buoyancy-driven, allowing it to collect oceanographic data in the water column without the need for active propulsion. Once deployed, gliders change their buoyancy to descend or ascend in the ocean.

A similar sensor called a profiling float is free drifting and measures similar ocean parameters as the gliders. One of the profile floats being utilized is an experimental Air Launched Autonomous Micro Observer (ALAMO) type deployed by a Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA). The ALAMO initiative will help enable the MPRA community to launch profiling floats via the existing sonar buoy chute on P-3 and P-8 aircraft. Extending this deployment capability to forward-based patrol aircraft will help to fill sensing gaps in data-sparswe areas around the globe.

When both types sensors return to the surface, they obtain position through GPS, transmit the observed environmental information and receive commands for subsequent dives. Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC), an NMOC subordinate based in Monterey, California, and Stennis Space Center, runs a suite of high resolution ocean models that provide a daily prediction of the physical state and structure of the world’s oceans. The Navy Coastal Ocean Model (NCOM) provides sound speed forecast fields for regions across the globe, assimilating data from numerous in-water and satellite sensors. A strategic enabler to maintaining high-quality model predictions and minimizing operational cost is a steady stream of ocean data from sensors placed at key points. The returned information enables FNMOC’s numerical ocean prediction models, run on Department of Defense Supercomputing Resource Center systems at Stennis Space Center to forecast the ocean structure used in tactical decision aids to predict the acoustic propagation environment up to seven days into the future.

A new ocean profile observation viewer developed by the Naval Research Laboratory at Stennis Space Center will be used to analyze the ocean information. This new capability gives the Navy ASW planners and operators near immediate access to collected ocean data, allowing for exploitation of environmental features in near real time.

Finally, the Applied Physic Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University (APL-JHU) will leverage the environmental data collections taken during RIMPAC 18 to assess the performance of various Hawaii ocean model configurations for this experiment and help drive future improvements. APL-JHU has extensive knowledge and experience in oceanographic numerical analysis and acoustic modeling in support of Navy applications. This analysis will help to quantify the value of a dedicated strategic sensor placement plan in improving future modeling skill.

“This is probably the most comprehensive support that we’ve ever exerted for RIMPAC,” Miller said.

NMOC has approximately 2,500 globally distributed military and civilian personnel, who collect, process and exploit environmental information to assist fleet and joint commanders in all warfare areas to guarantee the U.S. Navy’s freedom of action in the physical battlespace from the depths to the stars.

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