Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport teams that included scientists, engineers and divers recently returned from three weeks in the Arctic supporting Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022, a real-world assessment of the operational readiness of the region.
During ICEX, fast-attack submarines fired five exercise torpedoes under the Arctic ice, which Navy divers and a Division Newport team then recovered. Along with the Torpedo Recovery Team, a Torpedo Flushing Team and personnel supporting the exercise, such as environmental planners and submarine tactical development staff, participated in the event.
Spending 11 days in the frozen environment — where the warmest day registered at minus 10 — presented its own challenges said Nick Savage, of Division Newport’s Sensors and Sonar Systems Department, who is a diver on the Torpedo Recovery Team.
“It was trying, but a great exercise,” Savage said. “We successfully recovered all five of the torpedoes shot and had to collaborate with other teams such as the Arctic Submarine Laboratory and other support teams. There were some tough weather conditions and some days we could not transport the torpedoes [by aircraft].”
ICEX 2022 also provided an opportunity for Navy specialists and civilian scientists to conduct research from a floating ice camp. There, they collected data on the Arctic conditions and how equipment, including unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs), responds to the extreme temperatures.
U.S. interest in the Arctic began in 1958 when the first submarine broke through the ice and more than 26 exercises have been held in the region since that time. The U.S. Navy’s annual ICEX began in March 2016, but Division Newport has been supporting events in that region for several decades.
In January 2021, the Department of Navy released “A Blue Arctic: A Strategic Blueprint for the Arctic” to provide an overview of challenges that the U.S. Navy faces in that operational area. While the blueprint focuses on cooperation, it provides the framework to prepare forces to “compete effectively and efficiently to maintain favorable regional balances of power.”
The Navy’s strategic document complements the “Arctic Strategy Outlook” released by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2019, which underscores three lines of effort in the Arctic region: (1) enhance capability to operate effectively in a dynamic Arctic domain; (2) strengthen the rules-based order; and (3) innovate and adapt to promote resilience and prosperity.
Building on those lines of effort, the U.S. Navy is working closely with allies and partners to maintain an enhanced presence, strengthen cooperative partnerships, and build a more capable Arctic Naval Force, which includes modernizing capabilities. This effort encompasses infrastructure; command, control, communications, cyber, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; a manned and unmanned presence; and science and technology.
Within the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the warfare centers are working to modernize Arctic capabilities through a variety of projects. For Division Newport, those efforts include wargaming, environmental logistics, under-ice communications and acoustic modeling.
Anti-submarine warfare performance
The complex and dynamic Arctic environment produces a multitude of potential tactical situations that current and future submarines must be able to navigate for warfighting and peacetime missions.
Arctic studies to date have addressed environmental changes and impacts. To better develop the required technologies, a more detailed tactical analysis of the impact on anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is needed. Mission engineers and analysts at Division Newport are doing just that — examining operational and tactical scenarios to determine ASW performance in the Arctic. Using naval engagement modeling and simulation to generate possible submarine tactical engagements in several Arctic locations, Division Newport’s analysis provides a better understanding of ASW performance, as well as a path forward to investigate the performance characteristics of a future advanced submarine.
The modeling effort helped analysts understand the sensitivities to ambient areas, taking into account the quieter “pack ice” (solid ice) and the louder “marginal ice” (melting ice) and incorporating different seasons, which bring with them different acoustic properties. Part of the modeling included the Marginal Ice Zone (MIZ), which represents climate change and ice melt. Modeling efforts may provide insights into performance change as more MIZ occurs.
“By modeling these areas, the Navy can begin to assess required submarine sensor and signature requirements to enable successful ASW prosecution,” James Sheehy, an analyst in Undersea Warfare (USW) Mission Engineering and Analysis Department, said. “These modeling efforts will inform future SSNx Analysis of Alternatives.”
Some data used in that modeling came from a 219-funded project by Matthew Gilchrest, a sonar analyst in the Sonar and Sensor Systems Department, and Tucker Sylvia, an oceanographer in the USW Mission Engineering and Analysis Department. Their project’s goal was to update the approach to predicting boundary losses at the sea-ice interface. Older models were based on thicker ice and now need to reflect the decreasing volume.
The team began by reproducing the results of the previous model, which was about 40 years old. Using physics-based modeling, they ran through different thickness, density and roughness of the ice to provide a current baseline for acoustic modeling. The challenge to continuing with this modeling effort is rectifying the outdated software code. Code created in FORTRAN needs to be converted for use in the Comprehensive Acoustic Sonar Simulator/Gaussian Ray Acoustic Bundle, or CASS GRAB. Updating the model would also mean updating predictions for mission effectiveness as well as acoustic performance.
“We want to get better ice models to give warfighters a better idea of their environment,” Gilchrist said.
“This would also affect engagement models to see how acoustic performance changes the mission,” Sylvia added.
In the meantime, the groundwork has been laid to get their model into the Naval Oceanography’s model library for operational use.
Another Division Newport scientist is investigating Arctic acoustic propagation using measurements from mobile platforms. By analyzing environmental and acoustic data recorded by Seagliders used for Office of Naval Research (ONR) experiments in the Beaufort Sea, Division Newport is developing a more thorough understanding of the Arctic’s acoustic environment. As melting ice increases the amount of freshwater in the Beaufort Sea, the way sound propagates in this water is changing as well. Understanding these changes is crucial for communications and object detection.
Jessica Desrochers, an oceanographer in the Ranges, Engineering and Analysis Department, became interested in Arctic acoustics while working on Division Newport’s Marine Species Modeling Team and is currently working on her doctoral degree in underwater acoustics as she continues to model acoustic propagation in the Arctic.
“We were modeling Navy testing and training events in the Arctic and I learned how drastically the Arctic has been changing and how these changes can affect the acoustic propagation in the region,” Desrochers said. “I found this to be very interesting and wanted to learn more about acoustic propagation and the Arctic. I am really excited to be a part of this area of interest as the Arctic becomes more open to Navy activities and understanding the acoustic properties of the region.”
Desrochers will present her research at an Acoustical Society of America conference in May.
Another aspect of Division Newport’s analysis effort is wargaming. Sierra Taylor Palmer, an engineer in the USW Mission Engineering and Analysis Department, who works primarily on wargaming involving unmanned vehicle operations, focused a recent wargame on the Bering Strait. Palmer built a physical board showing the U.S., Canada, Russia and China to get players focused on the thought process behind their decisions. Teams explored the environmental and geopolitical aspects of operating in the Arctic region.
“We use wargaming as a tool to guide analysis,” said Palmer, who presented her findings at the National Defense Industrial Association conference in October 2021.
“We considered how do we do follow-on and what’s important. We compared the U.S. Arctic strategy and the Blue Arctic Strategy documents and compared those against some classified sources. We’re realizing what we need more analysis on,” Palmer said. “Communications is an issue for all four countries.”
Division Newport has been involved in planning ICEX environmental logistics since its inception. Every two years, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and the Arctic Submarine Laboratory taps into the Mission Environmental Planning Program (MEPP) Team, part of Division Newport’s Corporate Operations Department, for its expertise in environmental compliance, marine mammals and biological resources. Division Newport also home to an acoustic modeling Center of Excellence; the MEPP incorporates and interprets their data as part of ICEX environmental documentation.
MEPP Team members Jennifer James, program manager, and Emily Robinson have worked on several ICEX events and have become subject matter experts in that area of compliance. The MEPP Team is now the only shop doing this work. The team also assisted with an Environmental Impact Statement and supporting documentation for the Coast Guard’s polar icebreakers.
“The type of work being done at ICEX changes from year to year. It’s a torpedo exercise every other ICEX and the research changes depending on the Navy’s objectives,” James said. “The Mission Environmental Planning Program continues to grow in customers and work. Our knowledge base is extensive. To the best of our ability we analyze how torpedoes are firing and being used. We use acoustical models so it’s never going to be real-world but it’s as close as possible.”
“We have to balance what’s good for the mission with what’s good for the environment,” James said. “We work together to get to a compromise before it goes to the regulators. We plan early to get the most out of missions without being harmful to the environment.”
With each ICEX, the team streamlines the process so there is less impact on the ice, which continues to present challenges — the 2018 ICEX, for example, required a very quick demobilization.
“Our purpose is to support mission readiness while adhering to U.S. law,” Robinson said. “The Arctic is a pristine and sensitive environment. We have to make sure the Navy is being good stewards for that environment.”
Visualizing the Arctic environment
To facilitate the use of UUVs in the Arctic, Division Newport computer scientists are supporting the ONR project Arctic Mobile Observing System (AMOS), which involves a collection of buoys designed for use in the Arctic as well as UUVs that are meant to operate under ice-covered regions. The role of Topside Command, Control and Communications (C3) software so far has been to act as command and control of the UUVs, to provide health and status monitoring tools for each of the unmanned assets, and to provide operators a way to visualize and analyze relevant environmental information in that operational domain. That environmental data includes, but is not limited to, ocean currents, water temperature, salinity, and ice cover. While Topside C3 had the capability to visualize environmental models before joining the AMOS program, updates were made to support data sets containing ice information.
“One feature that we are driving towards is to help operators visualize the communications network established by AMOS,” Topside C3 lead Zach Sawyer, USW Platforms and Payload Integration Department, said. “The idea is that operators would be able to see an intuitive geographic display representing the transfer of queued commands across the network. If the operator wishes to send a command to a particular UUV, they would have the ability to select a buoy to use as a communications gateway and then be able to track the status of the transmission and routing of the command.”
Division Newport is one of several warfare centers researching the dynamic Arctic environment in an effort to provide the data and technologies necessary for successful naval operations.
“The Arctic is an important region, and we are seeing increasing activity by peer adversaries,” NUWC Chief Technology Officer Dr. Vittorio Ricci said. “As sea lines of communication open in this region, it becomes another approach to the homeland. Hence, the warfare centers are supporting the DOD’s Arctic strategy by conducting research to understand the changing environment, particularly as the climate changes and the ice melts. We are developing new technologies to gain and maintain awareness of activity in the region as well as supporting and enhancing operations including communications, command and control, and precision navigation and timing.”
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