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03 3 2021

NATO agencies collaborate on trial for underwater autonomous detection tools

Experiments at sea require the technology you are accustomed to using while on land – but bringing that technology afloat requires special expertise.

The NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency recently supported the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation's (CMRE) work during a sea trial by providing support for all of the technology you would expect, including computers and communications equipment, from set up to operation of a service desk at sea during the trial itself.

NATO agencies collaborate on trial for underwater autonomous detection tools

"The main focus of sea trials is to acquire scientific data at sea. The different teams on-board each have their own responsibilities, but their efforts work together toward accomplishing that goal. My responsibilities were focused on communications and supporting the hardware and software on-board," said Davide Bertagna, the senior NCI Agency technician who supported the trial.

Bertagna joined CMRE on-board NATO Research Vessel (NRV) Alliance during the sea trial Distributed Autonomous Networked Systems (DANS20), to support their communications systems.

Bertagna works in La Spezia, Italy, as a part of the Agency's Communications and Information Systems (CIS) Support Unit in Naples. Throughout December, Bertagna supported the CMRE Scientist in Charge, Dr Alessandra Tesei, and the research team working on the sea trial, in coordination with the Centre's Engineering and IT Department.

"It was a great pleasure to work with one of the NCI Agency senior technicians during DANS20. When you work on-board for several weeks, you not only need high technical skills to contribute to the scientific trial but also flexibility, a positive attitude, team spirit, and enjoy being at sea! These are all qualities we found in our NCI Agency 'cruise mate,'" said Tesei.

Part of CMRE's Autonomy for Anti-submarine Warfare programme, DANS is a multinational cooperation programme focused on new methods to detect weak, low-frequency underwater sounds using underwater autonomous vehicles and stationary nodes on the seabed. The goal of the research is to improve NATO's ability to detect submarines.

The sea trial was carried out in the Ligurian Sea, with partners that included CMRE, Canada, Germany, United Kingdom and Portugal. Protective measures against COVID-19 were put in place by the Italian Navy who crew the NRV Alliance, including a period of in-cabin self-isolation, followed by molecular tests for all the participants before they departed for the sea trial. During this time, the research team was able to do some preparatory work, thanks to an NCI Agency-provided wifi solution that gave the participants internet access for e-mail and Skype calls from their cabins.

"It is not always easy to work on-board because it depends on the sea conditions, and you have to work in a small space," Bertagna said. "But if I encountered any difficulties I could ask my teammates, because they also had experience on-board."

The Agency provided services that included:

  • pre-installation and configuration of computers and other IT equipment at CMRE;

  • preparation of equipment loading from CMRE to NRV Alliance;

  • setup of the equipment in the computer lab and in different areas of the ship;

  • service desk during the sea trial;

  • support to communications, including video conferences for staff connecting from the ship;

  • support to the hardware and software on-board;

  • removal of the equipment at the end of the sea trial and re-installation at CMRE.

This is not the first time that the Agency's team in La Spezia, Italy has provided this type of service. From 2011 until the end of 2013, the team supported more than 60 sea trials, engineering tests and exercises conducted by CMRE at sea and ashore.