By Kelley Stirling, NSWCCD Public Affairs
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division co-led the third of three Advanced Naval Technology Exercises (ANTX) for “Fight the Navy Force Forward” July 9-19, 2019, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Dubbed ANTX East, the event focused on command and control, communications, force protection, unmanned systems and logistics. While Carderock was the technical lead for the event, there were three other Warfare Centers involved in coordinating the technologies: Naval Information Warfare Center, Atlantic; Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Keyport Division; and Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division. The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab worked with the technology organizers to develop mission threads that were realistic to the Marines.
Rod Peterson, Carderock’s Marine Corps Vulnerability and Protection Program manager (Code 664) and lead organizer of the event, said ANTX provided an opportunity to test prototypes and to participate in an interactive and progressive series of exercises in a collaborative and low-risk environment. Last fall, government and industry vendors submitted the technologies they wanted to test during ANTX.
“We have about 32 organizations with 53 technologies from industry, academia and government,” Peterson said. “ANTX allows us to bring together the technical community and the operational community for tech assessments in one location.”
Carderock had several technologies at Camp Lejeune during 90-plus degree heat. Combatant Craft Division (CCD), a detachment of Carderock, had multiple vessels on the water in Mile Hammock Bay. The Stiletto Maritime Demonstration Program platform was a key facilitator for about a third of the technologies at ANTX East, according to Kenneth (Kip) Davis, site director for CCD, which is located in Norfolk, Virginia.
Combatant Craft Division demonstrated an autonomous unmanned surface vehicle (USV) during the event, showcasing the boat’s ability to hold a position and sense its environment to perform a flawless docking at the pier.
Dr. Julie Stark, the science and technology manager for CCD, said the boat is a USV Lab Afloat, demonstrating autonomous safe navigation. She said it is a key component of the USV Autonomy Lab and Integration Center, which allows CCD to do research and development (R&D) for the Navy, Marine Corps and other Department of Defense partners.
One of the key components to ANTX East was the operator, in this case the Marine Corps. Having their instant feedback was crucial, according to Stark. She said the exercise allowed them to rapidly identify technologies that might fill gaps where the Navy or Marine Corps need them. They used mission threads developed by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) for the event.
Garry Shields, director of Carderock’s Disruptive Technologies Lab, brought some of his teams’ unique ideas to ANTX East, such as a manufacturing forward capability.
“We are demonstrating a new form of asymmetric industrial warfare, particularly the ability to build tactical systems at the speed of relevance,” Shields said.
In basic terms, his group was showing the Marines how they can improvise to build necessary items by using materials they may already have on hand, rather than waiting for the acquisition process.
“It’s been transformative for us, and we think it’s transformative throughout the Marine Corps when we start thinking about how we will build an improvisation network of technologies and Marines that know how to build transformative things in real time,” Shields said.
Another manufacturing forward idea was brought by Carderock’s Additive Manufacture Project Office, which showcased the Expeditionary Fabrication (ExFab) facility. Basically an expandable, 20-foot shipping container, the ExFab is fitted with several 3D printers to allow for rapid parts manufacturing.
“It enables us to set up a 3D-printing lab anywhere in the world on the fly to make a rapidly deployable fabrication facility, which is a really unique capability in terms of the advanced manufacturing lab,” said Carderock’s Sam Pratt, a trainer and technical expert in the ExFab facility.
As technologies were demonstrated, the operational component was able to identify additional needs, and some technologies came together to address those needs, and the researchers ultimately changed their demonstration during the exercise.
“There’s nothing that can’t be solved when you get the right people in the room, who all come with a purpose and a sense of humility,” said James Geurts, the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, during his visit to ANTX East on July 18.
John Phillips, the Marine Forces Command science advisor for the Office of Naval Research, said ANTX has allowed the operator to see how an idea can become a capability.
“Once you can see something in an experiment, the vision is there,” Phillips said, adding that being able show the capability of something, beyond the science and technology, makes ANTX an important event. “When you get it in front of a Marine, they are asking questions that are different. They are asking questions about capability, and that’s what the scientists and engineers should care about.”
Carderock Technical Director Larry Tarasek said ANTX provided a means for interaction between the scientists and engineers and the warfighter.
“The technologies we are seeing are fantastic,” Tarasek said. “But it’s not just about the technology; it’s about bringing the fleet here and getting their feedback.”
Prior to the event, Carderock established Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) with every technology demonstrator, which means a technology that the Marines thought would be immediately useful can transition to the force immediately, either for acquisition or further research.
“It really does enable rapid fielding of technologies in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Stark said.
Technology assessors scored the different entries throughout the week, and as part of the phase two of ANTX East, they will determine if there is potential for further development of any of the technologies demonstrated.
Selected participants will be invited to phase two, which includes a six- to 18-month follow-on development process, where they will continue experimenting and prototyping their projects. Successes from phase two may then end up with a contract package.
Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Gary Thomas said the bottom line is the Marines need new capabilities for their concept of operations to work; and that they need them quickly.
“What’s exciting from my perspectives is the agility that a venue like this provides us,” Thomas said of ANTX during his remarks. “This is extremely high value.”