Modern MCM operations are characterized by respecting a safe stand-off distance between human personnel and (potential) explosive devices. Unmanned systems play a crucial role in order to reach this objective, as evidenced by the Belgian Defence MCM concept of operation that starts from a few motherships deploying a range of unmanned assets. However, the efficient and optimal use of this unmanned technology still requires a lot of research. Within the MULTIMETER project, it is the objective to push the state of the art in unmanned MCM operations by the development of an autonomous unmanned surface vessel (USV) with underwater sensing capabilities for MCM operations. The USV that the MULTIMETER project intends to implement stems from a previous research project (RHID-MarSur), which drives the cost-efficiency of the MULTIMETER solution, as it can base a lot of its developments on pre-existing hardware and focus on developing key innovations that have an impact in the domain of MCM:
- Provide an OSSA (Open System Standard Architecture) software (not the USV carrier) implementation for the autonomous operations of an USV fitting MCM needs.
- A sonar will be installed on the USV to collect large amounts of data that will be used for training automated (AI based) mine detection methodologies
- Full autonomous operations allow for long-term inspection and patrol of critical above and underwater infrastructure
- Vehicle-to-infrastructure communication with sensors on maritime infrastructure (e.g. RADARs on windmills) and heterogeneous sensing tools on the USV extend the maritime situational awareness shared with e.g. the MRCC
- Navy officers will be trained to operate the user-friendly MULTIMETER C2 system that will provide real-time feedback & control of the vessel over redundant mobile communication services
- The highly limited draught of the USV will allow MCM operations in very shallow waters.
- MULTIMETER will serve as a test case with respect to regulation for autonomous sailing in the Belgian territorial waters.
- A robust and faster USV for operations up until sea state 5 using the USV from Exail. For practical reasons, the use of a more robust and faster USV is a dire need, as the MarSur has only a basic seaworthiness level, which severely impacts its deployment for realistic tests in collaboration with the Navy. Working on the Exail USV will allow not only to work under much more relaxed deployment constraints, but also to develop technologies on an actual platform to be used by the Belgian Navy, which opens the door towards the valorisation and exploitation of the IP developed within MULTIMETER towards actionable products that are of direct use for the Belgian Navy.
- Validation of swarming capabilities of collaborative unmanned vessels in simulation. If timing and availability of both the Marsur USV en Exail USV allows small-scale validation testing in real-life will be considered
In summary, the MULTIMETER project intends to research advanced autonomy and sensing capabilities for unmanned surface vessels in order to optimize the use of these systems as a force multiplier for MCM