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29/09/22: Leveraging USVs To Enhance Port and Harbor Security

As readers of Naval News know, the world’s ports and harbors are crucial to global trade. From Antwerp, to Shanghai, to Los Angeles to other mega-ports and hundreds of smaller harbors, these crucial nodes are vital to world trade. A disaster like a fire, explosion, or a major oil spill could close one of these ports for an indefinite time.

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One need look no further back than August 2020 when deadly explosions rocked the harbor in Beirut, Lebanon. Lost among the headlines that dominated the international news for weeks was the importance of ports and harbors to the global commerce that is the lifeblood of the economy of virtually every nation.

Port authorities must ensure security 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This task includes threat detection and security response, continuous inspection of port assets, as well as on-demand inspections after storms or other disasters, ongoing surveys to ensure navigable waterways, and a wide-range of other missions.

Port and Harbor Security State of the Art

Today’s state of the art for port and harbor security involves monitoring the video provided by cameras throughout the port, as well as patrolling the ports’ expanse of water with a fleet of manned vessels. These measures are decades old and have seen little technological improvements.

Most large ports use cameras to monitor the harbor. However, the video sent by cameras must be observed, or the cameras themselves are useless. Some ports maintain scores of cameras, and this requires having a command center and enough watch-standers to monitor this video in real-time, twenty-four hours a day.

Almost all ports have the capability to patrol the harbor with a manned surface craft. However, manned vessel operations are expensive, are often limited by weather and water conditions, and physically stress those operating them. For most ports, multiple manned vessels are needed to guarantee sufficient revisit time.

There are substantial challenges in trying to provide round-the-clock security for ports using old technology such as cameras and manned craft. For this reason, port officials have looked to emerging technology that will enable them to provide better security, at a lower cost, for their ports and harbors.

A Mega-Port with a Challenge

The Port of Los Angeles (POLA) is the busiest port in the United States. This mega-port comprises 42 square miles of water, 43 miles of waterfront and 26 passenger and cargo terminals. In the last year statistics were available, the port handled almost ten million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo.

Current capabilities to secure the Port of Los Angeles involve monitoring the video provided by 500 cameras throughout the port, as well as patrolling the ports’ expanse of water with manned vessels. This stresses the ability of port authorities to provide the necessary around-the-clock security.

The challenges faced by the Port of Los Angeles are not unique, and are similar to those of other ports. And while, like POLA, most of these ports have made incremental technology upgrades to their port and harbor security capabilities, a better approach might be to leverage what the Port of Los Angeles is doing by proactively exploring a cutting-edge technology solution to their security challenges.

Port of Los Angeles Demonstration

Port of Los Angeles officials did their due diligence and searched for another port that had experimented with emerging technology to provide enhanced security. POLA’s search led them to a port and harbor security demonstration conducted by the U.S. Army. Several years ago, the Army evaluated using unmanned surface vessels as part of a Mobile Ocean Terminal Concept Demonstration (MOT-CD) in Concord, CA.

After consulting with the U.S. Army regarding the success of MOT-CD, POLA officials invited Maritime Tactical Systems Inc. (MARTAC) to visit and demonstrate the capabilities of their MANTAS USV that Army officials used for their demonstration. MANTAS is a high-performance USV built on a catamaran-style hull, and comes in a number of variants ranging in size from eight-foot to 50-foot. A demonstration was conducted with a 12-foot MANTAS.

As the size of these USVs increases, so do the speeds, on-station endurance/loitering time, and payload/sensor carrying capability. These crafts can be equipped with a variety of above-surface sensors (EO/IR/thermal video) and below-surface sensors (sonars and echo-sounders), as well as other devices such as chem/bio/nuclear sensors and water quality monitors.

During this event, POLA officials controlled a MANTAS operating off the coast of Florida near MARTAC headquarters. The demonstration validated the going-in assumption that employing a thoroughly tested and proven commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) unmanned surface vehicle can provide a comprehensive harbor security inspection of a mega-port such as the Port of Los Angeles.

POLA officials suggested that port security would be enhanced with a longer endurance, higher interdiction speed, and increased mission payload USV. Encouraged by this possibility, MARTAC now produces a family of larger “Expeditionary Class” USVs for this and other missions. Leading the way is the T38 Devil Ray, which has been employed in a demonstration at the Port of Tampa, as well as in a number of U.S. Navy and international exercises, ranging from Trident Warrior, to IBP-21, to IMX-22, and on to Australia for Autonomous Warrior 22.

The Future of Port and Harbor Security

There is a reason that this kind of enhanced security methodology has not been evaluated previously. The technology to provide reliable and affordable unmanned surface vehicle support to augment manned capabilities and expand the reach of port officials did not exist only a few years ago. This technology is available today with commercial off-the-shelf unmanned surface vessels, and these can be employed to increase the effectiveness of port protection.

Given the enormous personnel costs associated with monitoring cameras and patrolling with manned vehicles, this new solution will drive down the costs of providing port security. This is not to suggest that ports completely abandon current means of patrol and inspection, but rather that they supplement these means with COTS USVs. Protecting these vital ports must be a first-order priority for all nations.

About the author:

Mr. Rowley is an experienced and accomplished multi-disciplined engineering project and program management professional with over 35 years of project/program management of complex ocean, electrical and mechanical engineering systems design. As a retired U.S. Navy Surface Warfare and Engineering Duty Officer, his experience base includes both Government and commercial sectors.

Mr. Rowley has a wide array of engineering and project management accomplishments in the areas of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering. Prior to his retirement from the Navy, he administered, and program managed the $1.2B Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) U.S. Navy Government shipbuilding contract. In the past two decades, while at SAIC/LEIDOS, he led the SAIC IR&D engineering design team to field a NOAA sanctioned SAIC Tsunamic Buoy (STB) and successfully designed, constructed, tested and deployed 24 STB buoys in the international arena. Mr. Rowley additionally served as the engineering technical director and lead naval architect integrator for the DARPA ASW Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV). Now known as the Medium USV Sea Hunter, the 131ft unmanned trimaran surface craft is the first major autonomous USV with a range of up to 7000 nautical miles and is currently operating as a USV test platform for the Navy within the Surface Development Squadron One in San Diego, CA.

Mr. Rowley is currently the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) with Maritime Tactical Systems, Inc. (MARTAC) in Melbourne, FL. MARTAC has designed and produced the MANTAS Tactical Autonomous Unmanned Surface Vessels ranging in incremental lengths from 8ft to 50ft.

Mr. Rowley has the degree of BSEE from University of Oklahoma as well as an MSME and Degree of Ocean Engineer/Naval Architect from MIT.

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