The Royal Navy has been testing an unmanned submersible probe that has the capability to patrol the sea for weeks at a time, gathering information and sending it back to controllers hundreds of miles away.
HMS Enterprise ran the trials with an autonomous underwater Slocum Glider – named after Joshua Slocum, the first man to single-handedly sail around the world – to study areas of interest in the seas north of Scotland.
The glider can be programmed to patrol for weeks at a time and automatically surfaces to transmit data while downloading new instructions for missions ahead.
Enterprise deployed the glider between the Outer Hebrides and the Faroe Islands.
During its ten-day trial, the probe studied the water column around the Wyville Thomson Ridge – a rocky plateau on the sea floor.
This has both a scientific and operational context and will help inform tactical and operational decision-making.
Throughout its submerged sorties, the glider was controlled remotely – through its online piloting technology – from 700 hundred miles away by a team at the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton.
“The Royal Navy sees oceanographic gliders as great enablers to gather real-time information, which will enable exploitation of the sub-surface,” says Captain Gary Hesling, who is in charge of the navy’s survey fleet.
“Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), which collect through water column oceanographic data are established systems that have been used in the defence, commercial and academic arenas for a number of years.
“The information collected can then be used to validate and refine oceanographic models or be passed in near real-time to ships and units operating at sea. This critical information will enhance and optimise defence sub-surface operations.”
The glider complemented Enterprise’s work while it conducted military data gathering tasks in the Atlantic.
The idea is to use the data gathered by the glider and compare it to that collected by Enterprise itself.
Eventually the aim will be to deploy several gliders at once to enhance the work Enterprise and fellow Royal Navy survey vessel, HMS Echo.
The gliders can bring in initial dumps of information before the Royal Navy’s survey specialists can hone in on specific areas of interest to dig deeper.
A big advantage of the glider is that it is able to collect data in difficult conditions at range and over a long period of time.
“This will inform future use, in particular, our ability to gather, process and disseminate data to inform operations,” said Lieutenant Mark Jones, HMS Enterprise’s Logistics Officer, about the recent trials.
“This has both a scientific and operational context and will help inform tactical and operational decision making.
“While the data collected is yet to be reviewed and compared, the effectiveness of the glider and its ability to conduct remote survey operations was proven.
“The rationale behind the glider is to deploy a number of them simultaneously, to build up a comprehensive data picture of the water column.
“Working collaboratively with shore-based teams at the National Oceanographic Centre and Defence Science and Technology Laboratory has been hugely beneficial as we share knowledge and build experience for the future.”
During it six-month operation, the Echo-class ship used a range of surveying equipment, including the glider, to hoover up data which helps in understanding the state of the seas around the UK and beyond.
Hydrographic and oceanographic information was collected by sonar devices, including single and multi-beam echo sounders, and towed array sensors.