Research Descriptions

Ocean Engineering

Within the broad field of ocean engineering, ONR is particularly focused on enabling unmanned systems with capabilities for performing a broad range of maritime missions with increasing autonomy, endurance, and robustness in uncertain and dynamic ocean environments. The missions of interest include search, sensing, oceanographic measurement, and object manipulation utilizing above and underwater robotic platforms that continue to improve in agility, dexterity, and their size, weight, power envelope.

Mine Warfare (MIW)

ONR is interested in innovative science and technology in the areas of mine countermeasures (MCM), explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and naval mining. This involves the employment of both manned and unmanned systems with emphasis on increasing applications of unmanned systems with greater automation and autonomy. Sensing modalities of interest include but are not limited to acoustic (all forms and configurations), electro-optic, magnetic, and chemical; it also includes sensing for targets as well as sensing for characterizing and understanding the mine-hunting environment. For MCM, all water depths are of interest (e.g., deep water up through the beach exit zone) as well as all threat locations in the water column (i.e., buried, bottom, moored, surface, and drifting). Threats include naval mines and other ordnance. Additionally, platforms employed for MIW include manned and unmanned systems that operate under, on, and above the water—with interest extending to platforms capable of operating in multiple modes (e.g., underwater and air operations). Specific topic areas of interest include:

  • Advanced Sensing (MCM & EOD)
    • Environmentally adaptive automatic target recognition (ATR): Algorithms for data product formation, preprocessing, detection, feature extraction, and classification capable of adapting in an optimal way to variable environments and contextual conditions. Emphasis is on approaches that improve detection performance and feature space saliency as well as approaches that adapt based on additional information (e.g., human input, incoming data, additional relevant data sources, etc.)
    • Performance estimation: Ability to predict performance a priori as well as estimate performance in situ especially when the new environment or situation requires or involves somewhat different models, assumptions, and/or underlying statistics. Includes development of metrics for evaluation and comparison of data products obtained both experimentally as well as derived from models
    • Interactive sensing: Approaches for unmanned systems to improve perception via tighter coupling between recognition processes and platform behaviors (e.g., adapting sensing modalities / settings, modifying vehicle pose / trajectory, manipulating or physically interacting with the world, etc.)
    • Innovative sonar and broadband data processing: Solutions that extend operational capabilities including novel processing schemes, transmit signal design, array configurations (including interferometry), motion compensation, beamforming, focusing, change detection, and other advanced techniques that exploit the coherent nature of SAS
    • Low-complexity and miniaturized sensors and processing solutions: Applications such as search, target reacquisition, or neutralization where small, low-cost, and low-complexity sensors and systems are necessary; also includes efforts to reduce data acquisition and data transmission expense
  • Phenomenology and Modeling
    • Through measurements and modeling, understand the physics of acoustic interactions with targets and the environment to be exploited for detection and classification\
    • Investigations that lead to enhanced scene understanding based on audition, or derived imagery, using active and/or passive acoustic systems
    • Investigations aimed at linking target scattering physics modalities to specific properties in the feature space domain used for ATR
    • Investigations that link observable impacts on acoustic scattering and/or propagation with the underlying phenomenology and/or processes that affect the environment
  • Autonomy for MIW
    • Approaches to increase unmanned systems’ ability to collaborate among, learn from, and interact with other unmanned systems, manned systems, and human experts; perform basic tasks autonomously (e.g., obstacle avoidance, launch, etc.); and robustly adapt to changing environmental and contextual conditions. In addition to increased MCM mission effectiveness, this thrust encourages research that has incidental benefits to related topics including EOD, swimmer/diver/asymmetric threats, advanced weapons and confined areas/waterways.
    • Temporally non-myopic planning under uncertainty: Many-sortie, multi-objective (e.g., time and risk) planning, optimization, and adaptation given multiple heterogeneous agents, subtasks, and hierarchies of command that occur over extended time horizons
    • Tactical behaviors for MCM: Exploration vs. exploitation (e.g., search vs. reacquire / ID, characterize environment vs. minehunt, etc.) and appropriately balance platform performance and payload performance (e.g., endurance vs. sensor coverage)
    • MCM Theory Modernization: Probabilistically describe and infer enemy course of action (ECOA) based on MCM effort and prior intelligence; planning, in situ data assimilation, and re-planning to support minimization of MCM risk, mission time, and their uncertainty; and development of autonomy supporting little / no intra-sortie human interaction yet rapid and rich inter-sortie human interaction
  • Mine and Obstacle Breaching Technology
    • Development of enabling technologies and systems to accomplish rapid in-stride breaching and maneuver through the very shallow water (VSW), surf zone (SZ), beach zone (BZ) and the beach exit zone (BEZ) by an amphibious assault force. The major emphasis of this program segment is the development of concepts and technologies to enable Ship-to-Objective Maneuver (STOM). Topics include stand-off breaching of mines and obstacles in the BZ and SZ, stand-off neutralization of individual mines in the VSW, and precision localization and navigation from the VSW through the BEZ

Department of Defense Explosive Ordnance Disposal Science & Technology Program

Under DoD Directive 5160.62, the Department of the Navy is the single manager for EOD technology and training, including research and development for common EOD tools and equipment. In this capacity, the Office of Naval Research's Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department resources, executes and manages science and technology initiatives to achieve long-term capability goals set forth for multi-service EOD missions. The DoD EOD Science and Technology program makes investments in the following areas:

  • Dismounted and robot-based standoff detection of bulk and trace explosives
  • Dismounted and robot-based sensors to detect buried ordnance and improvised explosive devices
  • Manipulators, end-effectors, controllers, navigation / situational awareness sensors, and alternative communication techniques for land-based and underwater EOD robots.
  • Autonomy for efficient use of small EOD robots
  • Neutralization and render-safe tools for land-based and underwater robots
  • Alternative technologies for disposal of conventional and insensitive energetic materials
  • Technologies to detect and locate RF emissions

Naval Special Warfare Applied Research

Naval Special Warfare (NSW) is a component of the U.S. Special Operations Force, and it is postured to fight a globally dispersed enemy both ashore and afloat. NSW forces maintain a continuous global presence, typically operate in small groups, and have the ability to deploy rapidly and clandestinely into an extremely broad range of austere and harsh environmental conditions from sea, air, or land. NSW operates across the spectrum of conflict—including activities other than war—and focuses on two core missions: special reconnaissance and direct action. These missions typically involve transit to an area of operations, gaining access to targets of interest, and transit out. Specific topic areas of interest include:

  • Tactical autonomous vehicles for maritime and riverine operations
  • Low probability of intercept / detection communications
  • Signature reduction
  • Combat swimmer (diver) as a system
  • Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors
  • Technologies to enhance the operator (e.g., mitigate exposure to the elements, reduce reaction times, etc.)
  • Mission planning based on multi-source information

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