On 19 September 2018, Professor Hayrettin KÖYMEN, one of the leading researchers in underwater acoustics in the World, gave a talk at the Kudenfor forum on the ‘Latest Paradigms in Underwater Acoustics and Sonar Technologies’’. One of the key takeaways of the talk was that since the 1960s, the acoustic research in the world was not public and has been kept secret from developing countries. This signifies that most of the World Powers see underwater technology as a key factor for dominance in marine warfare.
One of the biggest threats for military and civilian marine activity is the underwater mine. Underwater mines are very cheap and easily deployable. They are also becoming very sophisticated as they can now detect ships or submarine types before detonation to distinguish between friend and foe. Due to its simplicity, some countries rely heavily on underwater mines for naval protection. Due to these factors, tens of thousands of mines have been deployed all over the world in the last 100 years.
Mines are easily deployed; however, they cannot be easily removed or neutralized. That makes underwater mines one of the biggest asymmetric threats for naval security. To give an example, one mine can be deployed in 10 minutes from a simple platform, however it requires a special platform (Mine counter measure ship) and crew working more than 2 days to neutralize a single mine, if they are even successful in detecting it.
Detection is very slow and cumbersome. MCM-ships have special sonars, however big sonars located on the ships are not effective in detecting state of the art, self-burying or mines that look like rocks. The newest technology is autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) equipped with Side Scan Sonars to map the sea bed by flying 40-50ms above it. These AUVs can perform pre-determined missions to map the sea bed and are clever enough to operate autonomously once they are under water. There is no reliable communication technology for longer distances than 1km underwater, therefore AUVs need to operate up to 8-10 hours autonomously. Sea bed mapping is also slow as sonars work at speed of 2-3 knots (2-3m/s). Once AUVs finish mapping an area, they go back to the ship, so the crew can take a look at the sea bed map to detect whether there are any mines on that location. There is a software which does image processing, however the decision still needs human interaction.
If the crew finds or suspects that an object is a mine, a remotely operated vehicle with explosives is released to the object to classify and detonate it. This vehicle is known as ROV. If the ROV itself explodes with the mine, it is called “Single Shot ROV (SSROV)”. This ROV has a sonar and a camera for navigation and mine classification.
As you can understand, the whole process to detect and neutralize a mine takes a lot of effort and time. One AUV can scan an area of about 16km2 in 8-hour operation, and the rest of the day is allocated for crew detection and possible neutralization. One proposed solution to speed up this process is to release an inter-linked and smarter AUV fleet to scan a larger area faster. This is called a swarm type operation and it is still in its concept phase.
What to do?
AUV and ROV are underwater platforms. SSROV can be considered as ammunition. For a country such as Turkey, which has been surrounded by seas, and which has the technical capability to develop indigenous solutions for its military, unmanned underwater systems shall be produced indigenously for the following reasons:
AUV and ROV technology are still being developed all over the World. The swarm concept has just started. Like its success in UAVs, Turkey has a unique chance to also succeed in unmanned underwater systems at this point in time. 5 years from today, it will be too late, as technology will have moved on.
It is a general agreement that whoever controls the underwater realm will control all naval activity. As mentioned above, critical underwater technology is not shared or in some cases not sold. AUVs and ROVs as well as acoustic technologies are in this class. You need to develop your own.
AUVs and ROVs can be used to further develop acoustic technologies as they can serve as test beds as well as data collection platforms.
What is next?
HOYTEK was established in 2015 in Ankara and has dedicated itself to develop unmanned underwater platforms. HOYTEK developed 4 different type of ROVs from the 100m depth rate Finike to the 3000m depth rate Lyra. It has sold more than 6 ROVs in the last years 4 of which were exports. HOYTEK recently developed a 200m depth rate ROV, Demre, which is also ideal for MCM operations. Demre can easily be transformed into a single shot ROV with a new body which can also hold the explosive charge.
HOYTEK attended the industry exhibition in the Nusret Mine Countermeasure exercise (which is also a joint NATO exercise) in 2017 and 2018 and demoed its ROV capabilities and received positive feedback from the participants.
HOYTEK can lead the way for indigenous development of AUVs and ROVs, which can lead the way for another success story like UAVs.