The Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored SCOUT initiative recently held a versatile experimentation event at Joint Expeditionary Base (JEB) Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia, at the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay, to enhance capabilities for evaluating aircraft and vessels transporting illicit maritime cargo for extended periods and over greater distances.
The event’s goal was to discover inventive solutions to locate “dark targets,” which are aircraft or watercraft that function with little to no radio-frequency signatures and are present in maritime operating regions controlled by the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S).
It examined ways to deploy unmanned technologies to supplement traditional maritime patrol aircraft such as the P-3 Orion and P-8 Poseidon’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.
JIATF-S now collaborates with US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and partner naval forces to target, identify, and track illicit drug trafficking in the air and marine domains using all-domain technology and unmanned capabilities. This enables interdiction and apprehension to decrease the flow of drugs while also degrading and dismantling transnational criminal organizations.
SCOUT is an innovation vehicle and investment strategy for the rapid development of autonomous platforms that address today's warfighter challenges. Through experimentation with partners like JIATF-S, we can connect innovators, industry, acquisition professionals and fleet stakeholders to attack and solve key operational problems.
Adm. Lorin Selby, Chief, Naval Research Rear, Office of Naval Research
ONR SCOUT is an ongoing multiagency experimental initiative to discover alternative approaches to bring unmanned technology to warfighter problems, operationalize them, and scale them. SCOUT is dedicated to bringing unorthodox, commercial-off-the-shelf, government-developed, and government-sponsored technology to the fleet as quickly as possible.
This is a pressing issue for JIATF-S because every day multiple suspect vessels are near and in the area of operations conducting illicit trafficking. Because of this vast area, JIATF-S is looking for alternative capabilities and technologies to provide unmanned counter-operations that can detect and monitor suspect activity, ultimately helping prevent illegal movement to the United States.
Lt. Cmdr. Duane Zitta, Chief, Operational Demonstration and Experimentation, JIATF-S, US Coast Guard
The experimentation event, the JEB Little Creek-Fort Story, was a collaboration between ONR JIATF-S, SCOUT, the Naval Research and Development Establishment, and industry partners in the Chesapeake Bay area.
The event was one among the multiple sprint events, or scenario-based demonstrations of technology capabilities and characteristics, that took place this year. This will lead to a large-scale major experimentation event in March 2023.
During the Chesapeake Bay event, participants performed “cat-and-mouse” games utilizing a specialized vessel operated by SOUTHCOM and JIATF-S, a “Gotcha” boat earlier used by drug traffickers and captured by JIATF-S, and other targets of interest.
Sensor systems and technologies spanning from coordinated unmanned aircraft systems to wide-area motion imaging were used by participants.
Data gathered during the drills was transmitted to an onsite marine operations center and synthesized, offering operators real-time information on targets and the performance of each technology.
The technology evaluated at JEB Little Creek-Fort Story will undergo refinement and enhancement before the March 2023 main experimentation event.
ONR’s authorities to engage with industry have vaulted it as our vital technology maturation partner. Cooperative technology truly rises all boats in shared stability of maritime commerce and safety. We’re grateful for the years of technology maturation efforts that have been advanced by drawing on ONR’s expertise and passion.
Jeffrey Havlicek, J7 Director, Innovation and Technology, Joint Interagency Task Force South
Jeffrey Havlicek adds, “The best part is we are finding more naval operators just as grateful as we are for advanced capabilities in data synthesis, mission planning, autonomous detection of dark maritime threats, and improved naval logistics automation.”
ONR SCOUT JEB Little Creek-Fort Story Event
Video Credit: Office of Naval Research