Newport, R.I. –
NOTE: This article, written by the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport Public Affairs Office, was recently featured in Future Force Magazine Volume 7, Edition 1. The Autonomous Maritime Asset Protection System (AMAPS) is part of a joint program between the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport and the United Kingdom’s Defence Science Technology Laboratory. The AMAPS program is a port and harbor security system that seeks to develop a unified system that can respond to both surface and underwater threats and enhance the autonomy of system components wherever possible.
In December 2019, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday issued a fragmentary order calling for building alliances and partnerships with US allies.
“Operating and exercising together with allies and partners, our Fleet commanders will focus on full interoperability at the high end of naval warfare,” it states. “We will build on existing maritime intelligence and logistics partnerships with allied nations, and expand relationships with partner nations to broaden and strengthen global maritime awareness and access.”
One existing program is providing a vital connection from the United States to the United Kingdom: the Autonomous Maritime Asset Protection System (AMAPS), a port and harbor security system that has the ability to detect possible threats, determine what those threats may be, deny access to restricted areas, and provide a defeat capability. This cross-domain solution to harbor defense with enhanced autonomy is part of a joint program between the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), which is part of the UK’s Ministry of Defence. The AMAPS program seeks to develop a unified system that can respond to both surface and underwater threats and enhance the autonomy of system components wherever possible.
James McIntyre is team leader for surface warfare at DSTL and has been collaborating with NUWC’s Division Newport on AMAPS.
“From a UK perspective, the NUWC program has a legacy of delivering significant capability in the underwater domain,” said McIntyre. “Teaming with the US provided the UK with a unique opportunity to learn from this experience and combining this with UK expertise in above-water autonomous systems meant we had a highly capable team. At the beginning of this program, DSTL set out to understand the role that maritime autonomous systems could play in augmenting harbour protection systems. Over the course of the program this became even more important as the Royal Navy took control of the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. [Maritime autonomous systems] provide an opportunity to provide a persistent and responsive capability that—married with sensor systems and appropriate [command and control]—provide a holistic capability that can enhance our ability to keep our platforms and people safe.
“The team have come up with some innovative approaches and although COVID has impacted our ability to come together as we had originally envisaged, we have learnt from each other and have developed an interoperable system that both nations can build on. The program has helped inform the wider UK and US interoperability-to-interchangeability initiative and as we go forward, AMAPS is an example of how our two nations can work effectively together to meet common goals.”
When COVID restrictions prevented in-person testing of AMAPS, the teams developed a way to carry out testing using the Defense Research and Engineering Network, the first time this type of interoperability had been conducted.
The first step was for NUWC Division Newport’s harborside security program, known as Argus, to participate in a live, virtual, constructive (LVC) event—a hybrid of live and simulated components operating together in a simulated environment. The Argus security system provided the “live” component of the testing. The successful integration of Argus’ live piece with the virtual environment provided the risk reduction needed for the next phase of the project.
Following the LVC event, the Argus system operating from Newport, Rhode Island, connected over the Defense Research and Engineering Network with DSTL’s command-and-control system in Portsmouth, UK, to conduct an AMAPS exercise. Originally, this event was scheduled for in-person testing with the Newport team traveling to Portsmouth to integrate the two systems. As travel restrictions forced the cancellation of testing, the teams will continue to prepare for virtual testing over the network to demonstrate remote interoperability.
This type of interoperability is essential for the future Navy, and employing virtual environments during COVID was a necessity that will likely become commonplace.
Christian Schumacher, the technical program manager for the Argus program, has been working to develop enhanced interoperability between NUWC and its UK partners.
“This three-year effort culminated in a marriage between British surface detect systems and the US undersea detect system resulting in a cross-domain solution for port and harbor security,” said Schumacher. “Our data messaging and track information was passed to the UK and then they can task their [unmanned surface vessels] to autonomously deploy US deterrence and effectors to mitigate threats. Additionally, the autonomy allows security forces to be a continuous presence and to safety monitor from the command. COVID restrictions forced us to rethink how we integrate with the UK.
Instead of traveling to the UK with our enclave computer system, we performed risk buy down by passing messaging and data through the Navy network during an LVC event in September. The cybersecurity and information assurance approvals obtained during that event was an important stop on our way to full US-UK interoperability.”
How AMAPS Evolved
In 2009, NUWC Division Newport was tasked by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to conduct an expeditionary swimmer defense technology evaluation. The technologies that emerged were the result of a broad agency announcement.
The ONR sponsors also were members of Technical Panel 9 of the Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP), which included members from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. With the focus of the panel on port and harbor surface and subsurface defense, ONR also invited members of TTCP to participate in the event. As a result of this panel, NUWC Division Newport personnel had the opportunity to meet with TTCP members and conduct some preliminary discussions about potential collaboration efforts.
At the conclusion of the event, ONR asked a NUWC Division Newport representative to be a member of TTCP’s panel, which helped facilitate further discussions. The following year, NUWC Division Newport submitted a Coalition Warfare program proposal for its Waterside Rapid Deployment Security System (WRDSS). All members of the TTCP Panel were invited to participate.
Because of funding concerns and other priorities at the time, only the United States and Australia pursued the WRDSS funding. The proposal was under serious consideration by the Coalition Warfare program, but ultimately it was not selected. The Naval International Projects Office, however, had significant interest in the proposal and soon the WRDSS project was able to proceed.
At the conclusion of the project, the United States and Australia wanted to continue the relationship and submitted a follow-on proposal that would focus on autonomy—this was how the AMAPS program began. Both countries invited the other TTCP panel partners, including the United Kingdom, to join the team. The proposal was approved for a three-country collaboration. Before the project commenced, however, Australia underwent some management changes and backed out of the project. The other two partners proceeded with the effort and they continue their collaboration a decade later.
Today, the AMAPS project remains a collaboration between DSTL and NUWC Division Newport with the goal of combining above-water and underwater sensors and response systems to assess the role of autonomy in harbor or critical infrastructure protection. WRDSS has since evolved into “Argus,” NUWC’s expeditionary maritime defense system providing underwater harbor defense capabilities.
In their joint exercise, DSTL’s Integrated Test Facility provides surface situational awareness and autonomous defense platforms. All sensor and response information is displayed in DSTL’s AMAPS command-and-control system. This system has built on the Maritime Autonomous Platform Exploitation program, which provides the information architecture for autonomous systems. The AMAPS and Argus command-and-control systems interface with each other so both teams share asset control and tactical picture.
For a their joint exercise, NUWC achieved its goal of developing system performance requirements, combining the two command-and-control systems’ software, conducting an operational demonstration in Portland, UK, and obtaining a military utility assessment.
“AMAPS is a good example of technology evolution, leveraging one exercise to feed and improve the next, thus accelerating and improving the overall capability,” said Trevor Kelly-Bissonnette, NUWC’s director of international cooperation. “When impacted by COVID, the team adjusted and pushed forward with LVC, de-risking the next in-water experiment. This is in line with the [Chief of Naval Operations] and [First Sea Lord’s] Statement of Intent regarding Future Integrated Warfighting ‘building on the established cooperation…that delivers genuine warfighting capabilities with incorporated interoperability’ with the forward vision of interchangeability.”
“Moving forward, the UK aim to transition some of the software and systems into the hands of the warfighter as this will form the true test of what has been developed,” said McIntyre. “The Royal Navy’s NavyX autonomy accelerator can take the system on the next stage of development with operator-led experiments.”
NUWC Division Newport is a shore command of the U.S. Navy within the Naval Sea Systems Command, which engineers, builds and supports America’s fleet of ships and combat systems. NUWC Newport provides research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures associated with undersea warfare.
NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.