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Tracking & Positioning Systems for Military Unmanned Marine Vehicles

10th June, 2021 | 4 minute read
By Gavin Willoughby

In order to protect naval personnel from potential threats, maritime defence organisations are investing heavily and increasing their dependence on uncrewed surface vessels and autonomous underwater robotics. 

Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are frequently deployed for intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance (ISR) operations, as well as anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and mine countermeasure (MCM) operations. 

While these robotic platforms are designed to accomplish specific tasks, such as the identification and neutralisation of potential underwater threats, the successful completion of these missions depends on peripheral subsystems that can provide location awareness, accurate positional information and target guidance.

USBL tracking systems

When directing an AUV or ROV towards a known target and monitoring its position during the mission, an Ultra Short Baseline (USBL) tracking system can provide an effective and uncomplicated method of confirming and recording the course of the vehicle. 

The coordinates of a potential target are fed into the USBL’s control system, allowing the vehicle operator to monitor its path and make necessary corrections as it heads towards its intended destination. Without a USBL system, vehicle positions would be unknown, and AUV and ROV operators would be effectively working blindfolded.

Recognised as a primary supplier of underwater acoustic systems, applied acoustics and the aae technologies group have provided USBL systems for many military scenarios, with a particular focus on the Mine Counter Measures (MCM) arena. Over 250 of our USBL systems have been put to work in the defence market, with variants ranging from commercial off the shelf systems (COTS) to specially-designed OEM systems using aae’s state-of-the-art acoustic technology, engineered to meet the individual requirements of military groups and defence contractors. 

Whether it’s portable systems used by mobile units on small craft, integrated systems permanently installed on naval vessels or airborne systems deployed from helicopters, our engineers and wider team offer genuine expertise in an industry with a growing reliance on subsea acoustics.

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Photo by Kraken Robotics

Autonomous surface vessels

One of the more recent developments in maritime defence applications is the use of autonomous surface vessels (ASVs) from which to deploy remote subsea vehicles. ASVs further minimise human exposure to potential threats  and create a further set of requirements for autonomous deployment.  

Whilst AUVs and ROVs still require tracking and monitoring, this operation may no longer be carried out by operators stationed on a nearby mothership, but potentially from a crew hundreds of miles away. The use of through water acoustics coupled to satellite transmissible data allows human operators to perform their duties while remaining far from the theatre of operation. 

An OEM version of aae’s Nexus 2 USBL system is a critical catalyst in these types of operation, autonomously providing reliable and accurate subsea positioning, and then utilising radio modem technology to send the data to a remote operations centre.

Positioning beacons

While vessel-based USBL systems are still pivotal to these operations, they can only provide positional data alongside an integrated, reliable acoustic transducer on the individual vehicle. As a critical component of the system, aae makes a wide range of transducers for direct integration into AUVs and ROVs, providing clear and precise communication between the remote vehicle and its base station.

Some of these transducers can be retrofitted as standalone battery-powered transponders. However, aae has a long history of working directly with vehicle manufacturers to provide integrated solutions at factory-level, creating complete and comprehensive systems.

Cutting-edge military solutions

In this constantly evolving market where technology and industry requirements continue to drive each other forward, aae remains committed to providing cutting-edge systems and solutions, maintaining long-term partnerships within the global maritime security sector.

Read more about our defence products and capabilities, or feel free to get in touch to discuss your organisation’s requirements in greater detail.

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