US Navy finds new use for abandoned AUV

Researchers from the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have found a new use for a 90’s-designed autonomous underwater vehicle called Autonomous Mobile Periscope System (AMPS).

When it came time to evaluate the Periscope Detection and Discrimination (PDD) capability, a radar interface that detects the presence of elusive diesel-electric submarines by spotting their periscope, navy engineers needed targets to ensure a system’s operational effectiveness.

Prior to testing the PDD with a submarine, Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems requested a flexible and available asset to identify potential technical issues early on, reducing the risk of program delays caused by testing late in the development cycle.

In response, Dave Cardiel, Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) AN/SPQ-9B radar technical direction agent, unearthed an unmanned underwater vehicle known as the Autonomous Mobile Periscope System (AMPS) that appeared to match his testing needs. Located at Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Keyport Detachment Pacific, Pearl Harbor, he and Kurt Dulka, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) Point Mugu test and evaluation manager, journeyed across the Pacific to investigate.

“When I heard about the AMPS system, Kurt and I made a trip to Hawaii to check it out,” said Cardiel. “AMPS had not been used for a few years and needed new batteries and some maintenance before we could see a demonstration. I saw the potential for reviving it and worked with Keyport to obtain cost estimates for a demonstration. I then worked with Kurt and John Cunnick from NSWC PHD [Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division] to entertain the idea of moving AMPS to California as a Navy test asset.”

Designed in the late 90’s, AMPS was originally used to provide realistic training for anti-submarine warfare watch standers. The vehicle could perform pre-programmed maneuvers either on the surface with an exposed mast or at a submerged depth just below the surface. In 2007, left with no funding, AMPS transferred to NUWC Keyport Detachment Pacific, where it remained forgotten—until recently.

Turning AMPS into a viable and funded project involved extensive planning and technical comparisons of alternative options. After months of research, the team received approval to pursue AMPS as a solution for PDD testing with AN/SPY 3, AN/SPQ-9B, and Next Generation Surface Search Radar programs.

“It was a relief to get AMPS approved and to begin moving forward with restoration,” said Cunnick, NSWC PHD test and evaluation engineer. “We had a great team of people ready to go who simply wanted to do what’s best for the Navy. We knew we had a good product and wanted to pull it off the shelf.”

All hands were on deck preparing AMPS for at-sea testing. Personnel from NSWC PHD and NRL joined forces with a team from NUWC Keyport, led by Scott Shimizu, to begin AMPS revitalization efforts. In addition, personnel from NSWC Carderock, led by Steve Ebner and Hung Vo—two of the target’s original design engineers—contributed by updating the system’s firmware.

Meanwhile, Dulka led a team from NAWCWD Point Mugu, tackling the challenge of deploying and retrieving AMPS while at sea. Since it would be deployed for radar testing on the east or west coast without access to a torpedo recovery boat, they developed a low-cost launch and recovery system from re-assembled targets that could be broken down and shipped across country. In addition, Point Mugu personnel worked with NSWC PHD to research and collect radar cross-section data on the periscope mast to ensure AMPS realistically depicted the threat.

“The potential to add AMPS into the Navy’s test asset inventory drove the team to excel in making this effort a reality,” said Cardiel. “There were many people that made major contributions to the success of reviving this program. It was clearly a team effort.”

In September 2016, the team’s hard work and collaborative efforts culminated in a successful two-day, at-sea evaluation, validating the AMPS as a viable test asset that accurately mimics a submarine periscope. Due to the work of all involved, the military now has a high-quality test and evaluation system for future testing of next generation radars, proving once again, the versatility and innovation of America’s Naval engineers.