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CHIPS Articles: Naval Oceanography has small footprint, big impact at BALTOPS

Naval Oceanography has small footprint, big impact at BALTOPS
By Kaley Turfitt, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command - June 25, 2019
With more than 18 nations, 50 surface ships, 36 aircraft, two submarines and 8,600 personnel involved in the 47th annual Baltic Operations (BALTOPS), the people of Naval Oceanography are easily overshadowed but their work fortifies the entire exercise.

“Before any ship, submarine or aircraft enters or effectively maneuvers in the Baltic Sea and surrounding region, it must have a deep understanding of the environment,” said Rear Adm. John Okon, commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (NMOC). “Everything we do in the Navy and the Joint Force starts with our environmental analysis and prediction, and our team is on watch, afloat and ashore 24/7 to ensure there are no surprises.”

Naval Oceanography hydrographers worked closely with amphibious operations planners to determine strategic landing locations through identification of reefs, tides, currents, bottom types, shoals and anchorages to ensure safe landing operations.

Fleet Survey Team (FST) sent a four-person rapid response team to conduct a rapid littoral survey in May near Ravlunda Beach, Sweden, in cooperation with Swedish Armed Forces. The team used a flyaway sensor kit on a Swedish Army boat of opportunity to collect hydrographic data of the area in preparation for amphibious landing operations.

“It’s can sometimes be challenging as a Sailor to see the impact and the outcome of a particular survey. But the scale of BALTOPS made it clear and reminded the Sailors how much Naval Oceanography impacts operations around the world.” FST Officer in Charge Lt. j.g. Lucas Lindholm.

Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC) delivered full-spectrum model support. The command located in Monterey, Calif., provided atmospheric environmental information including precipitation, wind speed and air temperature, while the satellite location at Stennis Space Center, Miss., provided current directions, wave height,, water temperature and salinity, and acoustic parameter forecasts to support amphibious landings and surface ship navigation, as well as current speeds and depths for divers.

“We’ve never done a direct near real-time data release during BALTOPS, and coordinating that with a foreign country was exciting,” said FNMOC Oceanographer Michele Jordan. “We provided wind and wave data to the Spanish Navy that they were able to incorporate into their models to give them a better understanding of the environment surrounding four beaches for amphibious operations.”

“With the data provided by FNMOC, the Spanish navy Hydrographic Office was able to run a new oceanographic model specifically designed for amphibious landings. They were then able to share their model’s output with all BALTOPS participants and it was incredibly helpful in forecasting for beach landings,” said U.S. Second Fleet Oceanographer Lt. Cmdr. Brian McKeon. “More than just an exercise in science, this had a direct impact on operations and it made our jobs easier.”

While FNMOC created daily atmospheric models during BALTOPS, Fleet Weather Center (FWC) Norfolk coordinated with the Naval Oceanographic Office two months before the exercise to produce high-resolution ocean models predicting tides and currents to assess the beach landing environments.

FWC also embarked two mobile environmental teams (MET) of four personnel on USS Mount Whitney and two personnel on USS Gravely to provide daily weather and beach-landing forecasts. These forecasts assessed and predicted environmental impacts to friendly and enemy platforms, sensors and weapon systems supporting operational mission recommendations regarding environmental tactics, techniques and procedures.

Naval Oceanography also left its mark within the Mine Warfare Task Group (CTG 162.60), the largest task group at BALTOPS. Naval Oceanography Mine Warfare Center (NOMWC) delivered a UUV platoon of 12 personnel and a data fusion cell (DFC) of six personnel to execute the group’s mission of seeking and clearing inert training mines.

The Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO) has six oceanographic survey vessels that are forward-deployed around the world collecting data that describes the characteristics of the seafloor. NAVOCEANO gives this data to NOMWC’s data fusion cell and UUV platoon who use the data to plan their mission based on the predicted environmental conditions.

The UUV platoon collects sidescan sonar data and the post-mission analysis (PMA) cell, a subcomponent of the UUV platoon, searches that data for mine-like objects. The DFC takes the minelike objects from the PMA cell and attempts to eliminate redundant contacts to reduce the time divers need to spend searching for mines.

“NOMWC was thrilled to participate with our international partners to practice in a dynamic environment as we have for the past several years and we look forward to operating with them in the future,” said DFC Division Officer Lt. Ben Ziemski.

“Naval Oceanography is made up of just 2,500 personnel, yet we underpin every U.S. Navy operation and exercise,” said NMOC Maritime Operations Director Capt. Damon Dixon. “BALTOPS was the perfect opportunity to show our nation and our international partners the full scope of our capabilities.”

BALTOPS is an annual joint, multinational maritime-focused exercise designed to strengthen partner relationships, enhance flexibility and interoperability, and demonstrate resolve among allied and partner forces in defending the Baltic Sea region. The exercise involved maritime, ground, and air forces to strengthen combined response capabilities necessary to ensure regional stability.

Naval Oceanography collects, processes and exploits 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 of the ocean to the stars.

Fleet Survey Team’s (FST) AG2 Kyle Miller and AG3 Martin Nepita conducting hydrographic beach survey in Ravlunda, Sweden during BALTOPS on May 8, 2019. FST conducted a rapid littoral survey in cooperation with Swedish Armed Forces to collect hydrographic data of the area in preparation for amphibious landing operations. Photo by Kaley Turfitt
On June 7, 2019, Naval Oceanography Mine Warfare Center's (NOMWC) AG3 Christopher York, right, and AG3 Alexander Jordan begin programming unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) missions to support BALTOPS in Todendorf, Germany. NOMWC delivered a UUV platoon of 12 personnel and a data fusion cell of six personnel to execute the Mine Warfare Task Group's (CTG 162.60) mission of seeking and clearing inert training mines. Photo by Kaley Turfitt
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