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Proud Manta Trains the Hunters and the Hunted

Unmanned off-board systems join ships, subs, and aircraft in NATO exercise

NATO naval forces conducted a major undersea exercise, Proud Manta, off Italy in February. The exercise focused on training the crews of submarines, ships, and aircraft in the warfighting areas of anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare, and other maritime operations, as well as conducting undersea research.

“Different nationalities are all speaking one common language – NATO,” said Rear Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander submarines, Allied Naval Forces South. “They are all working together with different communication systems and ramping up to the culmination of this event, which is the best anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare exercise that we do all year long in the NATO alliance.”

Foggo said five submarines, 12 surface ships, and 15 aircraft took part in the 2012 exercise, along with the NATO Undersea Research Center (NURC) research ship NRV Alliance and NURC’s autonomous underwater vehicles. The exercise took place in the Ionian Sea to the southeast of Sicily, and included forces from Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

ITS Todaro (S 526) is spotted Feb. 20, 2012, by a CP-140 Aurora Maritime Patrol Aircraft during a phase of Exercise Proud Manta 2012. NATO, Allied Maritime Command Naples photo

French, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Turkish submarines had the opportunity to hunt and be hunted by the surface ships of Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (which included a Dutch flagship, German and Canadian frigates, and a German Oiler), a French destroyer, an Italian destroyer and frigate, two Italian auxiliary ships, and a U.S. cruiser and destroyer.

Maritime Patrol Aircraft and ASW helicopters from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States operated from air bases in Sicily, including the Naval Air Station at Sigonella. Patrol aircraft like a Canadian CP-140 Aurora, looking for “enemy” submarines, had to also be vigilant for enemy aircraft, such as Italian Tornadoes and Eurofighters.

“We have enough ships, planes, and people engaged that we can really simulate plenty of threats and therefore we can train hard in how to work together to deal with and neutralize those threats,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Walter Luthiger, chief of staff of Commander Submarines, Allied Naval Forces South and chief planner for Proud Manta 12.

The research vessel Alliance took part in Proud Manta by conducting experimentation of detection and tracking using autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs); testing NURC-developed software for real-time performance prediction; and monitoring the sea test area with an underwater glider to better understand the presence and behavior of marine life, according to a NURC spokesperson.

The 305-foot Alliance is owned by the 28 member nations of the NATO alliance, and specially designed for underwater acoustic research for the benefit of the member nations. NATO researchers say the vessel is the quietest ocean-going research ship in the world.

NATO Research Vessel Alliance at anchor just prior to Proud Manta 2012. Allied Maritime Command Naples, NATO photo

NURC scientist Kevin LePage says NURC employed one glider and two bottom-mounted recording devices to operate in deep water at or near the habitat for the beaked whales.

According to Piero Guerrini, head of the Engineering Group, NATO Undersea Research Centre Engineering Technology Department, the glider was remotely controlled by NURC pilots via Iridium satellite from a control room at the Centre in La Spezia.

“The main purpose of gathering data from gliders is to initialize and check the oceanographic models elaborated by NURC scientists, and for marine mammal risk mitigation,” Guerrini says.

“We use them also to acquire acoustic data, and, for this purpose, we develop dedicated systems – for example, to listen to marine mammals’ acoustic emissions,” says LePage. During Proud Manta, in particular, researchers are using a glider-mounted hydrophone to monitor ambient sound levels in the test area, to detect the presence of marine mammals and, if present, to better understand their behaviors. This was part of a wider commitment to marine mammal risk mitigation that NURC has been conducting for more than a decade.

In addition, NURC also deployed two AUVs that were towing acoustic arrays and conducting multi-static active sonar operations.

LePage says the two AUVs were launched from Alliance. They have an endurance of about eight hours and can travel at a speed between 2 and 3 knots. “They are able to sense the field, the echoes generated by the sonars deployed by the Alliance, and also the off-board sonar DEMUS source [deployable multi-static sonar].”

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