The 2021 Naval Integration in Contested Environments (NICE) Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) took place from April 7-14 at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina — the same location of ANTX East that took place in the summer of 2019.
“ANTX is one of my favorite innovation events,” Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Carderock Division’s Technical Director Larry Tarasek said. “It is where we demonstrate innovative technology to gauge what the fleet’s interests and needs are. ANTXs have been going on for the past five years, though Carderock had very little involvement during the first three to four years. I realized we were losing out by not bringing innovation front and center to the fleet. We weren’t developing a workforce that got first-hand visibility into what the fleet needs were.”
The purpose of the 2021 NICE ANTX was aimed at assisting the Navy and Marine Corps in concept development through the exploration of a wide variety of technology from industry and government labs.
This year’s event saw Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic and NSWC Crane Division as technical leads with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) and Naval Warfare Development Command (NWDC) as the operational leads. In 2019, NSWC Carderock acted as the technical lead of the event.
“The NICE ANTX is a lot like what we did for the Fight the Naval Force Forward, Logistics, Maneuver and Force Protection ANTX, also known as ANTX East, in 2019,” said Rodney Peterson, Carderock’s lead ANTX organizer. “The one exception is that the lead roles are different. The focus is still the same — to support the naval forces under the Distributed Maritime Operations concept and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations.”
Specifically, NICE ANTX directly supports the 2018 National Defense Strategy and the NICE Experimentation Campaign. The Stiletto Maritime Demonstration Program led by NSWC Carderock played a key role in the execution of the NICE ANTX. Dennis Danko, who manages the Stiletto program under the Carderock’s Combatant Craft Division’s (CCD) Special Projects Branch in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Stiletto supported a total of 10 technologies at the NICE ANTX, with several of the technologies to have follow-up demonstrations on Stiletto in the future.
“Stiletto is a maritime demonstration and experimentation platform with a mission of supporting the Rapid Reaction Technology Office in countering emerging threats by conducting demonstrations to validate the technical feasibility of a capability, explore its operational value and reduce developmental risk,” Danko said. “We take new, innovative, emerging technology, put them on boat, get underway in a relevant environment and evaluate their performance capability. This is a good way to reduce developmental risk and introduce new technology to warfighters, industry and other companies.”
Peterson was present at the NICE ANTX as a focus areas (FA) lead in order to provide guidance to vendors and participants. He led Domain Maneuver, one of five FAs for the employment of friendly forces, and capabilities to gain an advantage over the adversary in air, space, land, maritime and cyberspace.
“The focus area leads guide a set of participants that are demonstrating technologies at the ANTX in keeping them informed and helping them understand what to expect at the ANTX event itself,” Peterson said. “Some of them have only demonstrated their technologies on land and were excited for the opportunity to try their technology over water, be it the Inter Costal Waterway or the ocean.” Carderock had four technology demonstrations at this year’s event.
One of which being the Autonomous Lab and Integration Center (ALICe), which led a demonstration with their unmanned surface vessel (USV), Hammerhead Hanna. This program is led by Plinio Vargas, computer scientist, USV Controls Engineer Resource. Jeffrey Smith, Technical Project manager, Research and Development Systems Engineering Division was the onsite lead for the ALICe demonstration during the event.
“ALICe is unique because its capability was developed for all of the Department of Defense (DOD), not just the Navy,” said Dr. Julie Stark, Science and Technology Office Department head. “With ALICe being at ANTX it has access to high visibility with a lot of eyes on it that wouldn’t usually see it. We hope that this will lead to collaboration among the rest of the DOD.”
ALICe was also featured at the ANTX East in 2019, though its primary focus then was autonomous refueling. This go-around, with the help of a Small Business Innovation Research video camera attached to vessel, the ALICe team decided to further demonstrate their capabilities.
“This year we decided to do an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission,” Vargas said. “We installed the video camera on our vessel to identify targets and to provide us with a constant live feed. We autonomously undocked from the pier, transited the channel and went into a harbor, and then used the camera to identify any targets. When we went into the bay we could see what vessels were nearby and were able to send a report back to say what vessels were located. Then, after identifying the targets, the vessel autonomously came back and docked itself.”
There was, however, a major malfunction that occurred to Hammerhead Hanna, but the ALICe team responded quickly and precisely to ensure it was repaired in impressive time.
“Everyone wants to think you can hit an easy button and everything will be fine with an autonomous vehicle, but that’s not the case,” Stark said.
During the ANTX, Stark said the ALICe USV experienced an equipment failure rendering the boat inoperable. CCD personnel were able to acquire a spare part (from another boat), repair the damaged propulsion system component and perform all necessary modifications to return the USV to operational status in fewer than 24 hours.
“If this had happened during a real life mission, this could have been catastrophic to mission success,” Stark said. “This incident highlights the importance of total system considerations for all unmanned vehicles including maintenance, logistics, sustainment, and especially having the correct personnel trained and available to deal with potential failures in a timely manner to ensure continued mission success.”
Also present was the Asymmetric Industrial Warfare (AIW) led by Garry Shields, Director of the Disruptive Technologies Lab.
“We train as to how we fight, and we fight as to how we train,” Shields said.
The AIW is a forward-deployed, tactically relevant, ‘on-demand’ manufacturing capability enabling warfighters to insert expendable vehicles, platforms and structures.
“We specialize in building expendable platforms,” Shields said. “We have been able to train Marines how to build expendable rafts, shelters, docks and piers. We help them with changing their perspective of materials you build with.”
One way to do that is to build and demonstrate a raft made out of presumably abnormal materials.
“The main thing we demonstrated at the ANTX was a raft made of foam and bamboo, which is capable of transporting four thousand pounds,” Mark Melendez said, mechanical engineer and member of Shields’ AIW team.
This experience is not one the members of Shields’ AIW team will soon forget.
“Being able to participate in the ANTX has been very exciting from Carderock engineering perspective to work closely with the Marine Corps and learn their ideas on tactically relevant platforms,” Bruce Wells said, also a mechanical engineer and AIW team member.
The Charging-Capable Li-ion Autonomous Safe Storage Interservice Container (CLASSIC), led by Dr. Thomas Hays, Materials Scientist, Expeditionary and Developmental Power and Energy and Justin Warfield, Electronics Technician, Non-Metallic Materials Research and Engineering Division, was another technology present at this year’s ANTX. The CLASSIC safely transports, charges and stores fully charged lithium-ion batteries insulating personnel and platforms from battery hazards.
“Vice Adm. James Kilby and Mr. James Geurts were present for one day of the NICE ANTX and they got a first-hand look at one of our technologies — our CLASSIC,” Tarasek said. “ANTX has been a great opportunity for our folks to engage with senior Navy leadership.” Kilby is Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfighting Requirements and Capabilities; and Geurts is now performing the duties of Under Secretary of the Navy.
Finally, Eric Silberg, Aerospace engineer, Sea-Based Aviation and Aeromechanics Branch co-led the demonstration of the Magnetic Anomaly Detection from an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (MADUAV) with Matthew Raphaely of the Research and Technology Development Branch. The MADUAV is a forward-area magnetic signature measurement capability for detecting the fleet’s susceptibility. As with all the technologies participating in ANTX, the MADUAV is still in its emerging phase.
“This product is still very much developmental, but I think our time at the ANTX went really well,” Silberg said. “There was a lot of opportunities to do testing on the beach — we did a number of flights with various different aircraft.”
For Silberg, the NICE ANTX provided not only a good opportunity to showcase his team’s up-and-coming technology, but provided critical, unbiased feedback.
“From a technical standpoint, this event provided a great opportunity for testing, with a lot of good conversations with Marines, Navy officers and tech assessors who all brought good ideas on how it could be used, where it can be useful and where it won’t be useful,” Silberg said. “As a technology there is a lot of value in coming in with an open mind to input you’ll receive, especially being in developmental phase, it is important to have the ability to remain adaptable to input you’ll receive.”
Peterson said he was proud of the work the Carderock teams did in showcasing their technologies and talents, saying, “All of the Carderock technologies did very well and received good attention.”
Aside from the technology demonstrations, Carderock also provided four engineers to provide technical assessments as part of a team of nearly 150 individuals from Naval Research and Development Establishment and Navy and USMC military operators.
Carderock’s team of technical assessment engineers consisted of: Anthony ‘Tony)’ Blair, Resource Branch Test and Evaluation engineer; Marella Camello, Research and Technology Development Branch engineer; Alex Gruber, Resource Mechanical engineer Resource; and Ryan Franke of the Subtractive and Additive Manufacturing Branch. Also present was Marco Leo, a new Carderock employee at CCD who provided logistics support.
“The typical day of technical assessments consists of Marines, Sailors, Navy engineers and scientists going from technology to technology spending about an hour with each and hearing about the technology and how it operates. They record their thoughts after each session and move on to the next,” Peterson said.
“Being a tech assessor is probably the hardest job at the ANTX.”
Tarasek sees ANTX as an excellent opportunity to better Carderock’s workforce development.
“The key takeaway from this year’s ANTX, or any ANTX we participate in, is the ability to develop a workforce that understands what the fleet of today needs for the ships of the future,” Tarasek said. “It is important for us to resolve today’s fleet problems through innovation.” Going forward, Carderock fully intends to make its presence known at future ANTXs.
“I think the NICE ANTX went really well this year — ANTX will continue to be a part of how we invest our Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) money,” Tarasek said. “These last two ANTXs have shown the value of supporting fleet exercises.”
Peterson was proud to announce that due to strict safety protocols and social distancing, the event experienced zero positive COVID-19 cases among the over 500 individuals present.