The problem of underwater Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) remediation is, if at all possible, long and complex using conventional methods such as divers in the field. This is why the project team has seen a proliferation of autonomous underwater and surface systems. However, performance evaluation of these systems to do the job requires lengthy at sea testing in very well defined and controlled conditions. These “controlled” underwater conditions are difficult to find and must be man-made and documented as accurately as possible. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Science and Technology Organization Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation (CMRE) is a world leader in oceanography, mine countermeasures, autonomy, acoustic signal processing and automatic target recognition and as such is ideally placed to implement an underwater UXO test site in the vicinity of the CMRE site in La Spezia, Italy, to maintain the site and monitor the environmental impact and support demonstration weeks providing engineering services to external participants and end-users.
CMRE seeks to build a cross-Atlantic US-European UXO hub and establish itself as a supplier for controlled experiments in the Mediterranean Sea. This project focuses on the implementation of a controlled and fully characterized UXO test bed, the use of the test bed for demonstrations and the annual maintenance of the site. CMRE is well placed to provide state-of-the art engineering, equipment, and methods to create and utilize a man-made UXO test site. CMRE has a compelling background in fundamental research and precision engineering at sea. For example, the accuracy of positioning provided by the Centre's real-time kinematic reference station allows immediate absolute positioning accuracy down to a few decimeters, and relative position down to a few centimeters, making this a formidable asset for the ground truth and for the navigation of vehicles on the surface. Additionally, CMRE has a strong background in positioning and navigation of underwater vehicles and can provide world-class support to participating teams.
The Centre will implement a UXO test bed in future participants to take advantage additional CMRE services, such as laboratory space, mechanical shops and deployment support. This approach takes systematic steps to ensure compliance with demonstration requirements and maintains stringent control through a fully detailed environmental characterization of the site and a comprehensive cataloguing of all objects with a portfolio of sensor images.
Additionally, events will be organized to foster international collaboration. The first event will be a workshop dedicated to understanding the lessons learned from the implementation and use of the CMRE UXO test. The second event will be a conference that focuses on presentations and discussions surrounding the results of UXO detection, classification and identification. CMRE will seek to publish proceedings and disseminate the results broadly across the NATO and military community.
The expected benefit for the Department of Defense is the availability of a test bed in the Mediterranean Sea that offers unique environmental specifications. This site will be fully characterized, all targets and clutter will be precisely catalogued and the demonstration will benefit from a very high-level of support to ensure the success of every participant. Such a site is a good place to benchmark systems and algorithms as well as compare the advantages, disadvantages and performances between them. CMRE is an independent NATO body and ideally situated to perform unbiased assessments.