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Harbor Protection Table-top Exercise (HPT2E)

Force protection and port security game is serious business

Antiterrorism and force protection measures are no game. But gaming technology is helping NATO navies and coast guards better prepared for potential threats. The NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC) hosted Harbor Protection Table-top Exercise (HPT2E), an attacker versus defender “gaming event” designed to improve advance interoperability and watchstander capabilities in maritime security situations.

The event was sponsored by NATO’s Emerging Security Challenges Division Defense Against Terrorism program and held at NURC’s facility in La Spezia, Italy, March 20-23.

According to NURC scientist Ron Kessel, “HPT2E focused on the protection of military forces, shipments, and critical civilian infrastructure in ports and harbors during times of high threat alert.”

Here, participants work the controls on the OpenSea Tactical Theater Simulator at the NATO Undersea Research Centre. The HPT2E included players, analysts, and observers from NATO military and civilian security providers from around the world. NATO photo

Using serious gaming with cutting-edge modeling and simulation methodologies and technologies, the center’s cadre of world-class scientists and engineers address emerging security challenges and anticipate solutions that will enable “smart defense through better cooperation and interoperability.”

It’s called a table-top exercise because it takes place in a building instead of a ship under way in a harbor. But the exercise involved actual military people from NATO nations who operated the ship simulators in the same way they would bring a ship into port. The ship-handling characteristics, navigation systems, sensors, and effectors are rendered in a virtual domain, Kessel said.

There are both red and blue consoles, for friendly and adversary units. The simulation allows for multiple blue vessels and craft and they can cooperate.

The simulation was conducted in NURC’s OpenSea Tactical Theatre Simulator, and is based upon a model that features modularity, so different ports, ship types, and numbers of vessels can be used for a particular scenario that could involve protection of military forces, shipments, and critical civilian infrastructure in ports and harbors during times of high threat alert. The “engine” features probabilistic models that deliver the expected performance of maritime sensors – such as radars and cameras – and effectors – such as non-lethal systems and guns. The participants were able to learn about emerging technologies that can be applied to maritime force protection through dynamic engagement with an adversarial element, and use the capability to experiment with different approaches to asset protection without actual risk.

While the conflict and threats posed in HPT2E were fictional, the scenes, interfaces, and dynamics to safely enforce exclusion and stand-off zones are quite realistic. The participants were able to operate in “dynamic attacker-defender tactical vignettes” played in the virtual port environment.

The participants had to use the various means available to them to determine if a vessel had hostile intent before conducting an escalation of force.

“We have an obligation [to] warn an approaching suspicious craft in an unambiguous way, and if necessary, to stop that boat using non-lethal means,” said Kessel.

Long-range acoustic devices can send loud, clear, and directed warning to approaching craft. Optical dazzlers, disruptors, and bright lights can make a potential adversary that you are aware of their presence, and can also suppress their ability to use a gun. A directed energy pulse can be used to stop boat engines. “Each option would work under a window of conditions,” Kessel said.

“HPT2E is a significant advance in tactical gaming and it is the first time that serious gaming is being used in the ‘Defense against Terrorism’ program,” Kessel said. “People get interested and focused on the scenario and the console, and operating the systems, controlling their platforms and sensors and effectors for force protection. We’ve demonstrated the role that serious gaming can play in the capability-development process.”

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...