PORT HUENEME, Calif. — In the middle of planning one of the nation’s largest asymmetric threat training exercises, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) faced a real asymmetrical threat—the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions that put the event at risk.
Since early fall 2019, the Port Hueneme Division team had been planning this year’s annual Coastal Trident (CT) Port and Maritime Security Program/Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX). The scenario-based operational research program enables hundreds of organizations to collaborate on diverse and unique training exercises to practice defending the United States’ seaports and maritime environment against potential asymmetrical threats. Asymmetrical threats—think natural disasters, industrial accidents, terrorism, cyber-attacks and even a pandemic—cost little money and resources to execute compared to the substantial financial expenditures and resources required to protect and defend against them.
CT turned 14 years old this year, and with 32 projects/exercises initially scheduled, the event promised to be the largest in its history, said Brendan Applegate, CT/ANTX’s lead coordinator and the command’s lead for fleet experimentation and exercises.
But COVID-19 then took hold around the world and created “larger challenges” than usual in planning the event, Applegate said. CT/ANTX typically requires coordinating and planning so that more than 150 organizations at all levels of the government, academia and the private sector can conduct exercises together, making it already complicated to organize as the nation’s largest sustained port and maritime security program.
“The (COVID-19 related) restrictions (we had to work within) included no traveling to southern California from out of the area; no groups larger than 10 people; when people are together, such as on a ship, they would have to maintain social distancing,” Applegate said. “So, we had to really spread out events (geographically) more than normal. It’s hard to do that and still allow people to have visibility with each other and share the knowledge we’re all gaining. And that’s one of the most important things—if they can’t share knowledge, then the event doesn’t have the value it should have.”
But the restrictions, however, did not dampen the event’s success, he added. Only 11 out of 32 initially planned projects canceled, and mainly due to the limitations of large groups.
“We’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to accomplish what we did in the current environment,” Applegate said. “We know we didn’t grow CT/ANTX necessarily this year, but we were able to keep the momentum going and set the stage for more significance next year.”
CT/ANTX historically spreads out over several weeks with trainings, instruction and exercises at myriad sites along the southern California coast. This format accommodates the many schedules of those who typically participate in the event, and provides them with unique locations to train at, including offshore oil platforms, seaports, unmanned platforms and others they don’t normally have access to.
This year, Applegate and his team stretched out the event timing and expanded locations to comply with the pandemic-related restrictions.
As opposed to just several weeks of activity, the first exercise kicked off in May with an autonomous launch and recovery of unmanned aerial vehicle with the Aegis technology group. The last exercise will occur Sept. 30 and involve testing night vision technology during a hypothetical physical security incident at PHD.
“Spreading it out so much allowed us to accomplish all of our objectives,” Applegate said, such as enabling diverse organizations to practice handling emergencies like port fires, and reducing the “exercise fatigue” organizations undergo so they “can participate in fewer events and get greater value out of them.”
The farthest CT/ANTX event this year occurred in Florida between Toronto, Canada-based sensor and electronics manufacturer Teledyne Optech and Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) maker Maritime Tactical Systems Inc., or Martac, headquartered in Melbourne, Florida. The two companies intended to collaborate on scanning the Port of Hueneme underwater and over water with Martac’s Mantas USV equipped with lidar and sonar equipment and integrate the resulting data from the two sources. But Martac employees, had they flown to California, would have had to self-quarantine for 14 days before participating in CT/ANTX, and that wasn’t feasible, Applegate said.
Instead of either Teledyne or Martac employees traveling, Teledyne sent Martac the sensors and lidar, which Martac mounted on the 12-foot long Mantas and tested it in a water body in Florida on July 31. Then, the company sent Teledyne and PHD the resulting data to integrate it.
“We were able to achieve objectives without sending people here,” Applegate said. “That doesn’t have the same appeal of Navy stakeholders watching it live, but we still learned the same.”
Barry Cross with Teledyne Optech tuned in Sept. 16 during the three-day virtual conference Applegate and PHD hosted in lieu of the normal in-person Open House that gathers participants together to help get conversations going and potential partnerships.
“We were able to demonstrate a solution with the integration of commercial off-the-shelf products from Teledyne and Martac,” Cross said.
Similarly, for the final exercise of CT/ANTX, night vision and thermal imaging device maker Sierra Pacific Innovations Corp. in Las Vegas, Nevada will send its device to PHD for testing and to compare with others. Normally, employees would bring the equipment to PHD and stay for the test.
“Because the scope of end users participating in CT/ANTX is so broad, the experiments we run can have so many applications,” Applegate said. “The Navy already has access to night vision technology, but the people doing small boat operations in the ports may not, and it would be really useful to them.”
Another challenge Applegate and his team faced this year was how to recreate the valuable and interactive Open House portion of CT/ANTX and still comply with COVID-19 restrictions.
To do that, the group and PHD’s Fathomwerx Innovation Lab maker space held a three-day online conference with speakers such as Applegate; NavalX Ventura Tech Bridge Director Alan Jaeger; PHD Technical Director Paul Mann; Kail Macias, Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center (NAVFAC/EXWC) technical director and PHD Deputy Technical Director Vance Brahosky.
The speakers summarized the Navy’s strategic objectives regarding technology, while on the second day, participants including Cross summarized their projects. Attendees also heard grant-funded university professors and students speak about their research into technology that may potentially be useful to the Navy fleet and sailors. Throughout the days, Applegate’s team moderated a chat room and encouraged questions and connections.
“The biggest value for participants in that event is walking around and talking to people and making connections for next year and to collaborate with other people they don’t usually connect with,” he explained. “We still were trying to broker those same discussions, but it was more formatted and less interactive. It’s harder to draw people into an event when there are no donuts and it’s not catered.”
CT/ANTX is increasingly technology-focused. This year, the event aligned with the Ventura TechBridge (another aspect of Fathomwerx Lab), which joined the NavalX network of TechBridges across the country earlier this year.
NavalX TechBridges are connectors that facilitate the innovation process, Jaeger explained to the virtual Open House attendees, and why the Ventura TechBridge fits in well with the technology element of CT/ANTX.
“The NavalX Tech Bridge concept enables developers from government and industry to rapidly develop prototypes in a space where we can validate, experiment and test,” Jaeger said. “The Coastal Trident Program aligns perfectly with the NavalX innovation pipeline of sourcing, curating, scanning, incubating, prototyping, validating, fielding and ultimately sustaining capabilities to the fleet.”
This year’s trainings, technical demonstrations, field experiments and discussion-based and operations-based exercises covered port and maritime settings for incident response, port security and protecting critical infrastructure, unmanned systems applications and countermeasures, and finally, domain awareness and information dominance.
Exercise scenarios included underwater search and recovery after vessel fires; facility security during labor strikes; detecting covert sensor networks; aerial tracking of un-instrumented underwater systems; towed sonar systems for undersea domain awareness; biometric authentication for shipboard information systems; distributed antennae systems and aerial denial systems for countering unmanned systems, among others.
Macias, NAVFAC/EXWC’s technical director, told the audience that his organizations’ participation in CT/ANTX for the past several years has led to numerous collaborations such as technical demonstrations, Small Business Innovation Research awards, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math projects and contracts with CT exhibitors, a key element in maintaining naval superiority.
Technological advances have helped the organization with one of its top priorities of repairing damage to the port, he said, which requires quickly assessing what is operational versus what is repairable.
“This was taking us weeks to months years ago, and now takes hours to days,” Macias said, “so technology is really important to getting that capability back.”
The technology element of the events has grown since 2011 and 2012 when technology began playing a greater role to fill in operational gaps, Applegate said. The Navy’s participation and its stake in CT/ANTX have increased in parallel, and as a result, the Navy sponsors more and more individual exercises. The Navy also now sets the program for the training, experimentation and the exercises.
“We can achieve just about anything that any of our stakeholders want to achieve,” he added, in regards to successfully holding CT/ANTX despite the constraints. “After 14 years of conducting this program, we have tremendous resources and rolodexes, and the sky is the limit.”