R/V Savannah cruises Chesapeake Bay

by John Bichy

The R/V Savannah spent the majority of September (23 days) in the Chesapeake Bay participating in the Patuxent River 2015 Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Office of Naval Research Science and Technology Demonstration (ONR S&T Demo). This was the largest demonstration of its kind to ever take place at PAX Naval base.  The purpose of this project was to “accelerate the relevance and utility of emerging technologies by bringing together operators, developers, and stakeholders to jointly explore Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and Unmanned-Surface Vehicle (USV) technologies in a common at sea environment.”

A total of six countries, 20 vessels, and over 50 vehicles (AUV or USV) took part in this effort. The R/V Savannah science crew primarily consisted of members from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City and Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory. Two modified WHOI REMUS 600 vehicles were operated from the R/V Savannah, the Small Synthetic Aperture Minehunter III (SSAM III) and the Laser Scalar Gradiometer (LSG).

Science and ship crew’s dockside at the west basin PAX River Naval Surface Warfare Center with the SSAMIII (foreground vehicle) and LSG (background) AUV’s.

Science and ship crew’s dockside at the west basin PAX River Naval Surface Warfare Center with the SSAMIII (foreground vehicle) and LSG (background) AUV’s.

Vehicles were deployed off the ship and set on daily missions to demonstrate and test their functionality within 3 sample regions (Patuxent River, Main Bay, Potomac River). The vehicles’ mission part was to locate underwater targets that were deployed in each sample area. At the end of the operational period, results from each vehicle were presented to all ONR S&T Demo participants including Navy Rear Admiral M. Winter.

The R/V Savannah spent its last day recovering targets with help from the Navy ship Grapple.  The cruise was successful on multiple levels.  From a science standpoint SSAM III and LSG performed well.  Both the Chief Scientist Tim Molnar (IPS) and lead engineer Andy Girard (WHOI) were impressed with the R/V Savannah as an AUV operational platform and expressed plans to use the ship in the future, including a potential project in Puerto Rico. From the ship’s perspective, this cruise introduced the ship to new user groups and new waters as the ship had never sailed this far up the Chesapeake Bay.

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