18 August 2016
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. – Call it the Detroit Auto Show of naval technology.
For three days this week, defense contractors, academics and the Navy's own research and development outfit, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, showed off future maritime technology that is being developed today.
Two drone submarines - unmanned underwater vehicles - maneuvered around Stillwater Basin in Narragansett Bay, while visiting dignitaries observed from a nearby pier.
"This is exciting stuff," said U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who predicted, "Mark my words, this will be the Oceans Century."
As sea levels are predicted to rise as a result of global warming, Whitehouse said, the strategic importance of the world's oceans will climb. That will bring environmental issues, strategic concerns and economic and strategic opportunities to the forefront, he said.
Meanwhile, in the background, Ocean Aero's Submaran plied the waters of the basin, an area also being patrolled by Lockheed Martin's Marlin. The two autonomous vehicles were given a predefined area in which to operate and shared the space together.
The Submaran is designed primarily for surface operations, where it can be driven by a solar-powered motor or a vertical wing-like sail. The craft, which is about the size and shape of a kayak, can automatically stow the sail and flood its body with seawater when it needs to slip beneath the surface out of sight.
The Marlin, which looks more like a conventional submarine, though about as long as the Submaran, primarily operates below the waves, though it can surface to launch a drone airplane.
The cooperation of the two craft in the basin was one focus of the three-day event, called the Annual Naval Technology Exercise.
Several of the demonstrations included so-called cross-domain collaboration, where manned or unmanned vehicles under the sea, on the surface, in the air or even in space work together to carry out missions.
One such demonstration involved a Blackwing, the Navy version of the Switchblade drone airplane already used by the Army. The barely visible black plane, only a couple of feet long, soared above the bay relaying intelligence information being gathered by two submarine drones to a submarine simulator on the campus of the undersea warfare center.