HII, Ocean Aero agreement takes at linking unmanned vessels

HII, Ocean Aero agreement takes at linking unmanned vessels
Remus 300 Crew

The crew of an HII-owned boat prepare to deploy a Remus 300 into the water. (Photo by Justin Katz/Breaking Defense)

WASHINGTON — HII and Ocean Aero have entered a strategic agreement that, if successful, aims to demonstrate how their two unmanned vessels could cooperatively tow, power and transfer data between one another — a step that would greatly expand the usability of both vessels, company executives told Breaking Defense.

The agreement, announced earlier this month, involves HII’s Remus unmanned undersea vehicle and Ocean Aero’s Triton, which is capable of acting as an unmanned undersea or surface vessel. The companies plan to research and demonstrate different capabilities in a series of phases. The first demonstration has actually happened already, during the International Maritime Exercise/Cutlass Express being hosted by US Naval Forces Central Command and US 6th Fleet in the Middle East. That event, which began earlier this month, ends this week.

Company executives said that demonstration only focused on the Triton towing the Remus to a predetermined location. The purpose of this was to place the Remus into a strategic location while also preserving its battery life; the Triton has solar panels to help power it through longer journeys.

Whereas the Remus is usually brought to its location by an operator, as it was when Breaking Defense witnessed a demonstration in October, partnering the Remus with a Triton potentially allows it to enter and leave hostile or dangerous locations without putting a human at risk.

Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, a spokesman for US Naval Forces Central Command, confirmed to Breaking Defense in a statement that HII and Ocean Aero’s demonstration was one of many that was scheduled during IMX/CE.

“Unmanned and AI systems integration is one of five key areas we’re focused on throughout the exercise,” he said. “We have more than 30 platforms operating from participating ships and hubs in Bahrain and Aqaba. Our aim is to further develop the over-the-horizon resilient communications capability for robust data transfer between the unmanned systems.”

But one vehicle towing the other is just the first step. Kevin Decker, Ocean Aero’s chief executive, told Breaking Defense the aim is to enable the Triton to catch and release the Remus, transfer battery power and swap information between the two systems.

That information could be the data the Remus has picked up on a recent mission or orders from ashore to conduct a new mission. The expansion of capabilities fits neatly into the Pentagon’s Joint All Domain Command and Control concept, and more specifically the Navy’s Project Overmatch. Both those efforts revolve around reliably moving data across the battlefield in contested environments.

“That surface platform can be a gateway to a transmission of the data over the horizon,” said Duane Fotheringham, president of unmanned systems at HII Mission Technologies, referring to the Triton.

Fotheringham said the companies’ strategic agreement also includes experimenting with how HII’s autonomy software, Odyssey, could be used to improve the Triton’s operations.

“How can we add autonomy onto the Triton platform to enhance its capability?… Sensor fusion and perception capability [are] two core modules that are available in Odyssey,” he said.

Decker added that if the the companies’ future research and development is successful, it would be “a significant improvement on what we’ve been able to do so far in the industry.”