NEWS | June 3, 2021

Rapid Prototyping and Experimentation Program (RAPx) of Unmanned Systems

By Todd A. Hurley, NSWC Carderock Division, Public Affairs

On the heels of the Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX) East that took place in 2019 comes the Rapid Prototyping and Experimentation Program (RAPx) of Unmanned Systems.

Leading the RAPx is Rodney “Rod” Peterson, Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Carderock Division’s lead RAPx organizer, who helped lead the ANTX East 2019 and was Carderock’s lead and a Focus Area lead of the Naval Integration in Contested Environments (NICE) ANTX that took place earlier this year. The RAPx is set to take place in September.

The RAPx is a collaboration between Carderock, NSWC Panama City Division, Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport and NUWC Division Keyport.

These four Warfare Center Divisions have collaboratively developed a vision to conduct rapid prototyping to support a variety of unmanned systems capabilities demonstrations targeting large displacement and extra-large unmanned undersea vehicle (LD/XL UUV) programs. Jointly, the Warfare Centers intend to develop or integrate existing capabilities that support their technical competency and customer base and execute the RAPx of Unmanned Systems (RAPx-Unmanned) program.

The objective of the RAPx is to demonstrate mission relevant payload deployment/delivery from an LDUUV or similarly sized platform, and is envisioned as an enabler to the Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) Naval operational concept. The DMO concept enables localized sea control to generate larger combat effects through increasing the offensive power of individual components of the naval force. 

The LDUUV will provide a robust, long-endurance, persistent, multi-mission, unmanned, undersea vehicle capability for the Navy and expand the undersea forces’ operating envelope. LDUUV will complement and augment manned undersea platforms by conducting dull, dirty, dangerous and distant operations, freeing up manned platforms to perform higher-complexity missions. Subsurface and surface platforms will launch and recover the LDUUV.

“The idea of the RAPx was originally that of the Technical Director from Panama City,” Peterson said. “Their TD sent an email to our Technical Director, Larry Tarasek, in 2019 after the ANTX East 2019 stating that they’d like to do a collaboration with us. Mr. Tarasek then called me into his office and told me the news and said he’d like me to work on it.”

Tarasek has continued to say that innovation, technical excellence and workforce development continue to be key attributes that he will steward as technical director. 

“A significant aspect for innovation is to experiment,” Tarasek said. “I remain committed to investing NISE (Naval Innovative Science and Engineering) funding into fleet experimentation like last month’s Fight the Naval Force Forward ANTX exercise at Camp Lejeune. RAPx will be a series of experiments in the Pacific Northwest region bringing together Carderock, Newport, Panama City, and Keyport for technology, collaboration and experimentation. Innovation at its best!”

On Tarasek’s orders, Peterson, along with Reid McAllister, head of Carderock’s Unmanned Systems, went to Panama City to discuss their plan.

“We had a really good meeting with them about unmanned undersea vehicles,” Peterson said. “We discussed our findings with Mr. Tarasek and he then gave a summary to the technical directors at other Warfare Centers, which is where Keyport and Newport requested to participate.”

The four Warfare Centers have an undersea vehicle within their technical capabilities, so for this first RAPx, the collaboration effort will be only with the four.

Initially, the RAPx was intended to be similar to the ANTX event where there would be a display of several technologies at a single location. However, that has turned out to not be the case.

“When we pursued it, we wanted it to be like ANTX, but it hasn’t gone that way,” Peterson said. “It has instead turned into a two-year effort. We started with the planning in fiscal year 20, and we are planning to do the demonstrations later in fiscal years 21 and 22.”

To determine which technologies to demonstrate, Peterson received concurrence from the three other Warfare Center leads and reached out to combatant commands and requested their Integrated Priority Lists (IPL) of capability gaps they’d like to address. Together, Peterson and the three other Warfare Center leads reviewed the lists and put together a problem statement.

The RAPx demonstrations will take place at Panama City, Keyport and the Triadelphia Reservoir along the Patuxent River in Maryland.

The demonstration taking place at the Triadelphia Reservoir will be a swarm divers program led by Ben Gordon, an electrical engineer in Carderock’s Hydrodynamics and Maneuvering Testing Branch.

“The portion of RAPx that I will be heading up is the swarm diver unmanned vehicle carrier,” Gordon said. “Swarm diver vehicles are small, two-foot long semi-submersible unmanned vehicles, and we are going to package them onto a payload module and put them on bigger vehicles that will hold several of them.”

These larger vehicles will serve as a sort of transport in order to get the swarm divers to the area of interest.

Swarm divers are an off-the-shelf vehicle. However, the integration onto larger vehicles to get them deployed and run their mission is what Gordon and his team are working on.

“Then swarm divers will exit the larger vehicles and survey the depth. Because they are so small, they have limited range and speed. 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,” Gordon said. “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.”

The purpose of the swarm divers is to replace the Marines who are currently doing these surveying duties, allowing those Marines to do other necessary jobs.

“We have done some trainings with Marines in Camp Lejeune, who have shown a real interest,” Gordon said. “The swarm divers will be replacing the Marines who currently handle these surveying duties by going out into the water in their wetsuits and fins. The motivation for this program is to get those Marines out of that potentially dangerous and uncomfortable job.”

Working under Gordon on this swarm diver program are Carderock’s Isaac Downey, mechanical engineer, Hydrodynamics and Maneuvering Testing Branch; Joseph Buto, mechanical engineer, Advanced Capabilities Branch; and Jennifer Nunes, mechanical engineer, Maritime Systems Hydromechanics Branch.

Another demonstration, the one taking place at Keyport, will be a Ship Hull Monitoring Program led by Liana Sansom, an acoustic engineer from Carderock’s Submarine Onboard Signatures Branch.

“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 is 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 mission data from the UUV we are using as our test platform.”

The UUV Sansom and her team are using is the LTV (Large Training Vehicle) 38, designed by Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory (ARL). From Carderock, this team includes Mark Gates, engineer, Radiated Noise and Decomposition Branch; Lucas Karr, electrical engineer, Performance Evaluation Branch; Joshua Ladrillono engineer, Submarine Onboard Signatures Branch; David Foster, Program Management Branch; and Jimmy Pope, Submarine Onboard Signatures Branch.

“For this demonstration we will be working with the UUV squadron one (UUVRON-1). The group in Keyport are the custodians of the LTV 38,” Sansom said. “We will be going out to Keyport in July to do an initial dry run before the official demonstration in September. The UUVRON-1 will drive the UUV, and we will put our equipment on it. We have a test plan outlining the requested UUV speeds and depths to test our equipment. What we ultimately want is to have a feedback loop so if the UUV produces any abnormal readings our system will be able to send us a warning.”

The third demonstration will take place at Panama City.

“Panama City is in the process of building a large displacement UUV,” Peterson said. “They are using a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with a nearby company. They are fabricating a large displacement platform for future demonstrations. It will essentially be a platform for smaller UUVs to go down and get integrated on a large displacement UUV to run them around and have them deployed.”

After the initial demonstrations in September, the four Warfare Center Divisions intend to do a follow-up event in fiscal year 22 to test and demonstrate their lessons learned.