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AUVs Provide Broad Support To the US Navy
Increasing Efficiency with Unmanned Vehicles


Tom Reynolds

U.S. Navy MK 18 Mod 2 as part of rigid hull inflatable boat operations in Bahrain, May 2013.
The U.S. military has added significant robotics capabilities to its forces over the past decade. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), colloquially known as drones, have become an indispensable part of the modern U.S. Air Force, and light robots are regularly deployed with counter-improvised explosives device (IED) task forces on land. Less publicized in the media, the U.S. Navy has also incorporated robotics into its operations in the form of AUVs. Just as UAVs and counter IED-robots have increased the capabilities of the Air Force and Army, the introduction of AUVs to the U.S. Navy have made naval operations safer and more effective.

Salvage Operations
One of the primary noncombat uses of AUVs by the U.S. Navy is the recovery and salvage of aircraft that have crashed into the sea. Unlike wrecks of naval vessels, which remain largely intact on the seafloor, crashed planes are typically broken into several hundred pieces by the force of their impact with the ocean surface. This creates a debris field on the seafloor, which can be as large as a square mile, making the collection of intelligence from the wreckage very difficult.

This was the exact situation faced by divers from the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2 in August 2013. On August 1, two F-16 fighter jets clipped wings during a routine training mission off the coast of Virginia, causing one of the two jets to crash into the Atlantic. When expensive equipment is accidentally lost during a training exercise, it is critical that its wreckage be salvaged so that the exact cause of the accident can be determined and prevented. MDSU 2 embarked aboard the Navy rescue and salvage ship USNS Grasp (T-ARS-51) on August 6 to search for the wreckage, equipped with a MK 18 Mod 1 AUV.

The MK 18 Mod 1 AUV is a modified version of the REMUS 100 AUV built by Hydroid, Inc. (Pocasset, Massachusetts). The vehicle was originally designed to perform low-visible exploration, reconnaissance and hydrographic mapping in the very shallow water (VSW) zone (depths of less than 40 feet), but is capable of depths just beyond 300 feet seawater. A man-portable vehicle, the Mk 18 Mod 1 can be rapidly deployed via small boat, truck or helicopter to the point of need. The vehicle's standard sensor loadout for seafloor mapping and salvage missions includes side scan sonar and a downward-looking camera, which together provide both visual images and sonar bathymetric data. According to a press release from the U.S. Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2, beginning on August 6, 2013, MDSU 2 searched more than 10 square miles of the ocean bottom using towed and AUV-mounted side scan sonar. The wreckage of the downed plane was successfully located approximately 3 miles from the point of the midair incident, and divers from the MDSU Area Search Platoon (ASP) began surface-supplied diving operations on August 16. To continue this article please click here.

Commander Tom Reynolds is a retired U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) officer and deep-sea diver who joined Hydroid Inc. in the fall of 2012 as business development manager—defense. Reynolds is a veteran of multiple combat deployments, including six in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has served as the EOD and Diving Task Group Commander in the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet and as commanding officer of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2.

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