Wave of the Future: New Technology Could Impact Ships at Sea

Office of Naval Research
Corporate Strategic Communications
875 N. Randolph St., #1225-D
Arlington, Va., 22203-1771
Office: (703) 696-5031
Fax: (703) 696-5940
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For Immediate Release: Sept. 26, 2013

By: David Smalley, Office of Naval Research

ARLINGTON, Va.— Sailors throughout the ages have wished they could predict the strength and size of the next wave. After sea-tests that concluded Sept. 18 off the California coast, the Office of Naval Research (ONR), Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division (NSWCCD) and other partners intend to make that dream a reality.

The Environmental and Ship Motion Forecasting (ESMF) system, a Future Naval Capability effort supported by ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Department, seeks to provide sea-based forces with new capabilities for difficult operations like ship-to-ship transfer of personnel, vehicles or materiel—giving operators sea condition information at levels of accuracy never possible before.

The system combines new hardware and software that will let Sailors and Marines know ship and wave movements up to 30 seconds before they actually happen, providing operators precious extra seconds to make adjustments to avoid collisions or other dangerous situations for the crew.

“This is literally unchartered territory in sea-based operations,” said Dr. Paul Hess, program manager at ONR. “It’s like a window into the imminent future for the operators of ships and ship systems.

“It could be a huge asset to joint force operations, to air-sea battlespace coordination, and to naval needs in the Pacific Rim.”

The system will also provide up to a five-minute prediction window for a range of environmental conditions to help military operators decide Go/No-Go for operations.

Finally, ESMF will predict ship movements on the water, including pitch, heave and roll.

“Imagine the complexity of two ships making a simple transfer of materiel in a port, using, for instance, a crane,” said Hess. “Variations in wave strength, different hulls reacting differently in terms of pitch and roll, and many more factors are at work.

“Now picture that same process not in port but on the open sea, with exponentially bigger waves, and you get the idea of how knowing what’s going to happen can make or break a successful operation.”

The ESMF sea trials took place over a two-week period, using sensors, hardware and software placed aboard ONR-sponsored Research Vessel Melville. Data was taken from surface ship-based radar, laser identification detection and ranging, buoys and more. 

The fielded system will ultimately rely only on sensors installed on the ship.

The effort supports guidance from Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert, whose Navigation Plan calls for developing new capabilities for ship operations, and supporting strategic efforts in the Pacific Rim.

The monohull, single-ship tests on Melville are only a first step: In fiscal year 2015, ESMF tests should include multiple ships.

“Ultimately this improvement in environmental sensing will lead to a dramatic increase in decision support and operator guidance,” said Hess. “The warfighter will have greater capabilities and options in operations—and that translates to more effective Sailors and Marines, and a safer force.”

The ONR and NSWCCD research partnership includes university and industry teams from the University of Michigan; University of Washington; Scripps Institution of Oceanography; the Ohio State University; General Dynamics Applied Physical Sciences; and Aquaveo LLC.

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About the Office of Naval Research

ONR provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C

Image - Environmental and Ship Motion Forecasting Program (ESMF)

Office of Naval Research
Corporate Strategic Communications
875 N. Randolph St., #1225-D
Arlington, Va., 22203-1771
Office: (703) 696-5031
Fax: (703) 696-5940
E-mail: ONRPublicAffairs@navy.mil
Web: www.onr.navy.mil
Facebook: www.facebook.com/officeofnavalresearch

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