ECA Group Demonstrates its Drone Systems at OCEAN2020 Sea Trials

ECA Group has participated in OCEAN2020 sea trials and demonstrated the combined use of drones for situational awareness and threat response at sea.

OCEAN2020 (Open Cooperation for European mAritime awareNess) is an EU-funded project implemented by the European Defence Agency (EDA) aiming at enhancing maritime surveillance and situational awareness, through the successful integration of manned and unmanned systems.

Coordinated by Leonardo, the project is bringing together the technical excellence and wide operational experience from 42 partners from 15 countries, all involved in the Maritime Defence domain, to identify operational needs and scenarios to collaborate at the European level.

“ECA Group is proud to take up the challenge of this first European maritime defence project and to successfully integrate its drones systems within a joint naval exercise giving a realistic tactical context”, said Stephane Desjardins, OCEAN2020 Project Manager at ECA Group.

As part of the project, a demonstration was conducted in the Mediterranean Sea in late November 2019 hosted by the Italian Navy in Taranto. The purpose was to demonstrate how heterogeneous unmanned assets could provide in real-time a maritime picture of the theatre of operations to a command centre located in a stand-off distance on land.

“The highlight of the project was the demonstration held in Taranto from 20th to 21st November 2019. This was a European first, in both scope and ambition. We have demonstrated our capability to use our naval drones system (AUV, ROV, and USV) from a control centre on board a warship”, said Desjardins,

During the demonstration, the manned and unmanned vehicles were integrated into a naval unit command and control system, allowing real-time data exchange via satellite to the European Maritime Operations Centre (MOC) located in the European Defence Agency in Brussels. The demonstration confirmed the successful exchange of the information collected from the different vehicles deployed in the area of operations, to create a comprehensive maritime picture.

The ECA Group has deployed its Inspector 90 unmanned surface vehicle (USV), fitted to launch and recover a SeaScan Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), for the first OCEAN2020 demonstration. The USV also acted as a communication relay between an ECA Group A9 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and the control and command centre.

ECA Group Inspector 90 unmanned surface vehicle (USV) equipped with a SeaScan Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). Photo Credit: ECA Group.
ECA Group Inspector 90 unmanned surface vehicle (USV) equipped with a SeaScan Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). Photo Credit: ECA Group.
ECA Group A9 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). Photo Credit: ECA Group.
ECA Group A9 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). Photo Credit: ECA Group.

Two mission scenarios were performed:

• Interdiction of a threatening vessel
• Interception of a mine-laying vessel before an amphibious operation

During the first scenario, the goal of the exercise was to intercept a fast-approaching suspicious boat and identify possible sunken debris. For this, the Inspector 90 USV equipped with an audio warning system and the SeaScan identification ROV was deployed in a completely autonomous way for dissuasion purposes, once the threat alert was activated.

The USV was used to approach the suspicious high-speed sailing boat and assess the threat, sending the command centre information to decide on intervention while keeping crews out of the dangerous area.

After the threat has been neutralized, the A9-M AUV has been used to perform seabed sonar detection in order to localize the wreck/objects dropped at sea by the suspect vessel. As part of this project, the AUV was equipped with a new HD camera to complete the seabed map obtained thanks to the AUV high-performance sonars at the end of the operation.

The Inspector 90 USV also conducted a close visual inspection of the assessed sunk target by automatically deploying the SEASCAN identification ROV. Its mission during the scenario was the inspection and identification of sunken wreck items that may have resulted from the intervention phase on the threatening boat.

The purpose of the second scenario was to demonstrate the capability of unmanned systems collaboration to detect, localise and identify underwater mines laid by a suspicious vessel.

For this exercise, ECA Group deployed both an A9-M AUV for detection and localization of underwater mines and its Inspector 90 USV with a SeaScan ROV identification on-board for close inspection and mine classification. Thanks to ECA Group’s UMISOFT software, all drones can be easily run from the same common interface.

The A9 AUV was once again used for seabed sonar detection in search of mines in the seafloor thanks to its high-performance HD embedded payloads and low signature to provide a global situational picture. Sonar and video mosaicking data processing after A9 AUV mission, using UMISOFT software

The data processed were mainly sonar data and videos shared immediately after post-processing from the local control centre to the European Maritime Operations Centre (MOC) in Brussel.

Using the data collected by the AUV, the INSPECTOR was sent to the designated area to deploy automatically the SeaScan ROV thanks to its LARS (Launch and recovery system) in order to carry out the final visual identification. The SeaScan’s powerful lighting and camera allow to closely inspect the smartest mines thanks to its very low signature.

Following this first successful OCEAN2020 demonstration, a second one will be carried out for June 2020 in the Baltic Sea.

ECA Group SeaScan ROV
ECA Group SeaScan Mine Identification Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV).



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