Polish, US Navy partner for first cooperative hydrographic survey

The US Naval Oceanography’s Fleet Survey Team (FST) and Naval Oceanography Mine Warfare Center (NOMWC) recently joined the Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercise for an opportunity to develop interoperability with European allies in mine countermeasure operations.

Fleet Survey Team™s Lt. j.g. Nate Brown and civilian subject matter expert Ryan Beets launch the Teledyne Z-boat, an unmanned surface vessel, during BALTOPS off the coast of the amphibious landing zone of the Ustka range on the north shore of Poland. Photo: US Navy

FST and the Hydrographic Support Squadron of the Polish Navy (HSSPN) conducted the two navies’ first cooperative hydrographic survey of the amphibious landing zone of Poland’s Ustka range in support of BALTOPS, May 15-26.

“This hydrographic technical exchange and validation of data collection and processing builds trust and cooperation between our nations, which inevitably strengthens our naval bonds,” says FST Commanding Officer Cmdr. Mike Svatek.

To ensure safety of operations during the amphibious portion of the annual exercise, combined forces required a hydrographic survey to provide critical data on shallow-water depths, sand bars and other obstacles underwater and on the beach.

In past exercises, a single nation has conducted a hydrographic survey of the entire amphibious operations area, but this year the HSSPN surveyed the deeper waters off-shore, while FST utilized state-of-the-art technology to conduct a shallow water survey and a survey of the beach. HSSPN conducted its deep-water survey of the landing vehicle approach area using side-scan sonar and a wide-swath bathymetry echo-sounder with 100 percent bottom coverage; FST used an unmanned surface vessel (USV) and a pole-mounted GPS antenna to conduct the near-shore survey.

This was the first time the two nations shared data sets to create a fused hydrographic product for use by all forces involved. The success of this cooperative effort signified the ability to combine separate data sets into a single product, enabling safe and professional operations by the combined BALTOPS landing force.

Following the survey, the hydrographic office of the Polish Navy’s hydrographic department chief, Capt. Witold Stasiak, said, “I am very happy that this cooperative survey was … successful. Safety of navigation should be one of the main goal[s] of naval hydrographers.”

The Naval Oceanographic Mine Warfare Center (NOMWC) conducted operations off Bornholm Island, Denmark. NOMWC provided personnel in three separate capacities to support the mine countermeasures (MCM) mission during the exercise.

“I am proud to see our teams operate across all areas of MCM, from the staff to the unit level, and provide environmental support for both the U.S. and our international partners,” said NOMWC commanding officer Cmdr. Kate Hermsdorfer. “I appreciate the opportunity to help advance 6th Fleet’s MCM mission in the Baltic, and look forward to providing further support in the region.”

NOMWC’s UUV Platoon embarked on Norwegian minelayer Olav Tryggvason, to further increase US-Norwegian interoperability. The platoon operated MK 18 Mod 1 UUVs equipped with side-scan sonar to take images of the sea floor. When the UUV returns from a mission, the team analyzes the data to search for contacts that may be mines. When a promising contact is found, NOMWC is capable of conducting a higher resolution mission to identify the contact.

BALTOPS is an annual maritime-focused exercise in the Baltic region and one of the largest exercises in Europe. Its main focus is to increase interoperability and cooperation between the US and allied nations in the region. This year, 30 ships from 12 nations participated in the exercise.