Story by CPO Jeff Atherton on 03/29/2019VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (March 26, 2019) Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 2 led a mine countermeasures (MCM) experiment, part of Navy Warfare Development Command's Fleet Experimentation program, aboard the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) landing ship dock Mounts Bay off the coast of Virginia, March 18-24.
Cmdr. Jon Haase, commanding officer of EODMU 2, headed the MCM task group, which included traditional and experimental mine countermeasures (MCM) assets embarked aboard the RFA ship. The experiment was designed to assess new and emerging MCM technologies, as well as advance and refine an EOD mobile unit's ability to command and control surface, air and expeditionary MCM forces.
Helicopters, explosive ordnance disposal technicians operating from small boats, or unmanned underwater vehicles have traditionally conducted mine countermeasures missions. The experiment's design integrated those forces under the command and control of an EOD commander to further advance and refine mine countermeasures capabilities.
"To embark all of those players onto one platform, an allied platform nonetheless, to integrate them all from a central hub, and to deconflict them from one task group is what we were looking to accomplish," Haase said.
The units embarked aboard Mounts Bay worked in tandem to provide a clear picture of the entire battle space that enabled the task group commander to make faster and better decisions.
"This was an opportunity to exercise command and control of a mine countermeasures task group so we could refine and advance both our ability to command and control but also our understanding of how the systems would work together off a vessel not designed for them," Haase continued.
The mission planning started months ago with members of EODMU 2 and RFA Mounts Bay discussing the feasibility of meeting the experiment's objectives. Prior to departing Naval Station Norfolk for the at-sea operations aboard Mounts Bay, U.S. Navy and RFA forces collaborated on a logistics effort to offload the ship's counter-narcotics and disaster relief gear and onload MCM mission gear.
Aside from the MCM gear required to complete the mission, representatives from the U.S. Naval Research Lab (NRL) and Textron, who are developing MCM mission modules for the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), each brought a large footprint requiring additional considerations.
"The amount of work that went into deconflicting all of these different organizations, their goals and their logistics, to embark for the first time and operate safely was an enormous amount of effort," Haase said. "We went through a lot of work in order to get to a point with the ship where everyone felt comfortable with the laydown."
For the crew of the ship, the charge of hosting a task group of this magnitude was no easy undertaking.
"I've seen elements of [the unmanned systems] in the Gulf theater of operations, but I've not seen the experimental elements here. I've not seen as much all in one place," said Royal Fleet Auxiliary Capt. Jed Macanley, commanding officer of Mounts Bay. "That gave us a little more challenge to make sure that we got the right things in the right place because once you've got it set, it's very difficult to start moving around. Even though we've got a big deck out there, there just isn't the spare space to swap things around as you might want to."
Work for all of the nearly 120 embarked U.S. military forces began immediately when Mounts Bay was underway. An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter from the Dragon Whales of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28 landed on deck, Sailors from LCS Squadron (LCSRON) 2 helped prepare the Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) to go in the water, EODMU 2's ExMCM Sailors checked diving gear and programmed unmanned underwater vehicles and the Fleet Angels of HSC-2 prepared their suite of airborne mine countermeasures equipment.
During the experiment, HSC-2 employed the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and the Airborne Mine Neutralization System - Archerfish (AMNS-AF) from shore. ALMDS was used to lase an exercise minefield to detect mine targets using streak-tube imaging Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR). AMNS-AF, which allows operators to explosively neutralize unburied bottom and moored sea mines located during mine-hunting operations, was used against exercise targets. Both systems are part of the Littoral Combat Ship MCM Mission Package, and they can be operated from ashore or aboard a vessel of opportunity.
The point of the experiment was not necessarily to examine the ability of these units to complete their missions and defeat mines but rather for all of the elements to work as one single unit to accomplish the mission effectively.
"It was a chance for us to go to sea to work with our allies but to also understand the complexities and the nuances of bringing those systems to an area where they conduct mine countermeasures and back," said Haase. "I think we've done that from a number of standard platforms at this point, but this was the first time to really take some emerging technologies and put them on a vessel we hadn't necessarily integrated together, combined them with some advanced communication systems from the helicopters when they returned, and integrated an overall picture of what was happening."
With the complexity of the experiment and assets operating in different domains, one of the main objectives was to command and control a complex warfighting task group.
"We had helicopters operating above the water, ships on the water, and unmanned vessels below the water. It was a three-dimensional problem that required us to avoid interference with signals being sent but also the physical deconfliction of those units in the same operating areas," Haase said.
With helicopters ashore, boats secured to the deck in their trailers and complex communications equipment returned to storage cases, Mounts Bay returned to Naval Station Norfolk with EODMU 2 having successfully demonstrated the capability to command and control an MCM task group at sea and the flexibility of the MCM mission package.
"ExMCM remains a cornerstone of the EOD community and our support to the Navy. Our ability to demonstrate this capability with our ally shows its versatility either from the shore or from the well-deck of a British ship," Haase said. "The future of MCM will be in refining the sensors, tactics and proficiency required by a dynamic security environment."