RAPx Program Completes In-Water Demonstrations

The Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Carderock Division fiscal year (FY) 21 Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) funded Rapid Prototyping and Experimentation Program (RAPx) of Unmanned Systems program concluded with two in-water demonstrations at the end of this past summer, and is continuing to progress as an FY22 effort.

The RAPx program consists of two projects: Measuring Acoustics and Structural Strength, and Micro UUV’s (formerly SwarmDivers). The FY21 objective of the RAPx was to demonstrate mission relevant payload deployment/delivery from a large displacement and extra-large unmanned undersea vehicle (LD/XL UUV) programs or similarly sized platform.

The RAPx was a collaborative event between Carderock and Naval Undersea Warfare Centers Newport Division and Keyport Division. The three Warfare Centers collaboratively developed a vision to conduct rapid prototyping to support a variety of unmanned systems capabilities demonstrations targeting LD/XL UUV programs.

RAPx is led by John Phillips, Director of Fleet Engagement for Carderock’s Chief Technology Office (Code 00T). Phillips took over for Rodney (Rod) Peterson, who was initially in charge of the event before retiring in the summer of 2021. Peterson helped lead the Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) East 2019 and was Carderock’s lead, and a Focus Area lead, of the Naval Integration in Contested Environments ANTX that took place earlier this year.

There were two demonstrations involved in the RAPx, the first was a Measuring Acoustics and Structural Strengths (MASS) demonstration that took place in Keyport, Washington, with UUV squadron one (UUVRON-1). Liana Sansom, an acoustic engineer in Carderock’s Submarine Onboard Signatures Branch (Code 7131), led the demonstration.

“The Platform Integrity and Ship Signatures Departments have gotten together and are building an integrated system to monitor machinery and ship hull health,” Sansom said. “Both departments have similar systems, so we decided to combine them for this program. Our overall goal was to prove we can integrate these two sets of equipment into one system that can be easily installed onto a platform for the future. We are making sure our two systems can integrate with each other and ensuring we can receive data from the UUV we are using as our test platform.”

The UUV Sansom and her team utilized was the Large Training Vehicle (LTV) 38, designed by Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory.

“The overall demonstration went pretty well,” Sansom said. “We went and spent a week in July working with the UUVRON-1. We did an initial dry run before doing the actual demonstration, which took place on Sept. 14-15. Due to doing the dry run in July, we were able to do most of our tests twice as things were going so well, which allowed us to collect more data than expected. We are now in the post-processing phase.”

The next step of the MASS project is to take the lessons learned from the LTV 38 and run another test in the coming year. In order to ensure their program was properly aligned to the direction of the Navy and future programs of record, the RAPx MASS team held meetings with Commander, Submarine Forces, OPNAV N97 and the NSWC Newport Division Snakehead Phase I prototype team. Based off those discussions, the RAPx MASS team is working with Snakehead Program of Record team to see which parts of the equipment they are interested in, and what changes they would need to make in order to support them.

“It’s not feasible to load on the Snakehead UUV this year, but they have software and hardware in a lab that we plan to use after the new year,” Sansom said. “We are in talks with them to install our equipment in the model in their lab, with hopes of loading onto the Snakehead UUV in 2023.”

Sansom’s team consisted of Lucas Karr and Trevor Stottlemyer, electrical engineers in the Performance Evaluation Branch (Code 653), and Joshua Ladrillono, an engineer in the Submarine Onboard Signatures Branch (Code 7131).

The other demonstration for RAPx was the SwarmDiver bathymetric survey, which was led by Ben Gordon, an electrical engineer in Carderock’s Hydrodynamics and Maneuvering Testing Branch (Code 863).

“We held the SwarmDiver event at Carderock’s Blast Pond on Aug. 27,” Gordon said. “While the SwarmDivers were a commercial vehicle, this year we are pivoting to an in-house designed Micro UUV, which is loosely based on a Naval Innovative Science and Engineering project from a couple of years ago.”

The developed Micro UUVs are small, semi-submersible unmanned vehicles. The primary objective was to package them onto a payload module and put them on bigger vehicles in order to deploy them.

“Because they are so small, they have limited range and speed,” Gordon said. “The longer you use them to transit, the less battery they have to survey, so that is where the idea of piggy backing onto larger vehicles came about. They thrive in shallow areas — 20 meters or so and they have some unique features — they don’t struggle too much in waves, they don’t capsize and they don’t need advanced navigation since they aren’t fully underwater, therefore they can use GPS.”

One of the purposes of the Micro UUV is to replace the Marines who are currently doing these surveying duties, allowing those Marines to do other necessary jobs. Gordon and his team have done trainings with and received interest from the Marines stationed at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Working under Gordon on this Micro UUV program were Isaac Downey, an engineer in the Hydrodynamics and Maneuvering Testing Branch (Code 863), Joseph Buto, an engineer in the Advanced Capabilities Branch (Code 822) and Jennifer Nunes, a mechanical engineer in the Maritime Systems Hydromechanics Branch (Code 881).

Gordon and Phillips mentioned that the demonstration went well, and was attended by not only Carderock leadership but also representatives from U.S. Fleet Forces Command and Office of Naval Research.

“What we do at Carderock matters, and has the potential to be very beneficial for the fleet,” Phillips said. “If we are going to have a demonstration for a NISE technology transition programs, we should invite fleet representatives and potential transition sponsors. We should be engaging with them at the beginning, well before our demonstration to make sure they are aware of what we are doing and able to use our efforts to enhance future capability for the Navy and Marine Corps. Since we were made aware that the SwarmDivers were no longer in production, we were able to use the feedback we received from our demonstration and from the storyboard that was sent out to those that could not attend due to COVID restrictions to shift the path for our FY22 effort to better align to fleet needs through development of our own in house Micro UUV design.”

The exchange with the fleet representatives led Gordon and Phillips to enter a Trident Spectre 22 proposal to launch the RAPx Micro UUV’s from Carderock’s Combatant Craft Division Long Range Unmanned Surface Vessel prototype that is now part of the NISE funded Autonomous Lab and Integration Center program. The resulting capability to be demonstrated from the three swarming, expendable, Micro UUVs will be the ability to rapidly conduct bathymetry, provide Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability through an electro-optical/infra-red camera, and transfer that information via a low power communication relay, resulting in situational awareness being provided back to USV from which they were launched.

Trident Spectre is the Naval Special Warfare Innovation Proving Ground, and is an annual exercise focused on the integration of operations, intelligence and technology that comes together as a result of continuous planning and collaboration with joint interagency stakeholders. The event will be taking place in mid-late July 2022 in Virginia Beach.

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