SAN DIEGO, Calif. – As the Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) community’s capability grows in both sophistication and in quantity, a community leader says they’re being served well by their creed to remain hardware-agnostic.
The EOD force has been set on a path to grow its Expeditionary Mine Countermeasures Company numbers and double the number of unmanned systems platoons that operate under those companies. The service’s investment in the people and in the Mk 18 Mod 1 Swordfish and the Mk 18 Mod 2 Kingfish unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) they operate come as the Navy is also planning to merge the Kingfish program with the Razorback UUV the Littoral Combat Ship community uses.
The new Medium UUV program, for which the Navy plans to release a request for proposals by the end of this fiscal year, could end up being the Kingfish or a variation thereof, could look more like the Razorback UUV, or could be sometime brand new, with the open architecture to operate all the sensors and cameras that both the EOD and the LCS communities need.
The commander of EOD Mobile Unit 1, the Naval Base Point Loma-based unit that commands all West Coast ExMCM companies, said his force will be able to continue meeting operational requirements regardless of how the MUUV program plays out.
“Whether they [select] the Mk 18 Mod 1 or Mod 2 or another generation or evolution of UUV, that’s yet to be determined. These systems work for us right now because of the size and the form factor – they’re fairly lightweight, fairly small form factor that we can employ in a relatively rapid manner across the spectrum of domains,” Cmdr. Brian Reitter told USNI News earlier this month.
He said that what matters is the technology on these vehicles, which is advancing rapidly, leaving the Navy constantly trying to take advantage of new sensors or software that will allow operators to keep a greater distance between them and potential hazards in the water, or allow them to get a clearer image of an object to more easily identify it.
With all these advances, the Navy, their Marine Corps partners and the broader joint force are constantly looking “to continue expanding the aperture of what can unmanned systems do.”
“We’re constantly expanding the operational environments that we work in. Our banner statement is platform-agnostic, sensor-agnostic, and really environment-agnostic as well. If there is a need, we will see if we can effect that space,” Reitter said.
Specifically, he said, after receiving money in the Fiscal Year 2020 defense spending bill to add more ExMCM companies, he’s focused on getting those forces into the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of operations. The next big move for the community is to send the first Mk 18 Mod 2 Kingfish UUV into theater, with plans to operate an ExMCM company in U.S. 7th Fleet periodically out of Guam as the company travels throughout the region to take on a long list of operational requirements.
“I have a list of work through the fleet commanders and the expeditionary commander and the joint service commanders in INDO-PACOM [who are] ready to receive this and operationally employ it,” he said, noting the high demand for this mobile force that can scan for and identify mines and other man-made or natural hazards to the freedom of movement in the littorals.
Reitter said the Navy EOD community has been using these UUVs for mine countermeasures for about six years now and has been operating them in INDO-PACOM for about four, but this will be the first time a full ExMCM company will deploy to the combatant command.
“We’re attuned to the environment, but now we’re just expanding our footprint,” he said, noting the platoons on the ground will have to learn lessons quickly about how working in the Pacific environment compares to the Middle East, where they have the most experience.
“What worked in one fleet, 5th Fleet, doesn’t directly translate to 7th Fleet. The core principles still exist, but the mechanism, the way you employ it, the mobility platforms, constantly changing based on the theater,” Reitter said.
“INDO-PACOM is about 50 percent of the world. So what’s going to work in one small slice isn’t going to work everywhere, so it is a constant innovation and re-development of [tactics, techniques and procedures], with the basic foundation and core principles being the same.”