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Sea Wasp: An Advanced ROV For Explosive Ordnance Disposal

6 min read

Underwater Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) is an increasingly significant niche requirement around the world as the threat from both conventional and improvised underwater ordnance grows. Law enforcement agencies, as well as naval forces, are collectively regarding the underwater domain as an area of vulnerability and are looking at how they can best reduce the risk to peacetime operations in the underwater environment. For just this reason, Navies worldwide are considering the potential of the underwater robotic system, Sea Wasp, to counter this growing threat.

Sea Wasp

Saab’s Sea Wasp underwater vehicle is an easily deployable system that can operate in harbours, lakes, rivers and other waterways. Underwater situational awareness is achieved by video cameras, LED lights and a wideband sonar, primarily to locate targets that may have been placed on a ship’s hull, a harbor wall or the sea- bed. When ready, the operator uses powerful thrusters to maintain position and by using the five-function manipulator arm to position an EOD disruptor or other tool by the target - ready for detonation.

NEED TO COUNTER THREATS POSED BY IEDs

Sea Wasp was developed by Saab to meet a United States Government requirement to combat the asymmetric threat posed by a covertly delivered underwater conventional or improvised explosive device (IED). The US’s Combat Terrorism Technical Support Office (CT-TSO) tasked Saab to build a waterborne Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to counter IEDs. The project began in 2014 and Saab delivered three Sea Wasps to CTTSO as prototype systems by the end of 2015. The aim of the project was to build an ROV that could achieve under the water what a Land EOD Robot could do on land and by doing so, to reduce the need to put a diver at risk from the IED. The requirements of the project were the need to be able to operate the ROV with only a two-man team from a range of different platforms, both small watercraft and land vehicles. The underwater system had to be easy to operate for inexperienced pilots and to be effective in the challenging environmental conditions of ports and harbours where poor underwater visibility and high currents are the norm.

INCREASED DEMAND

The international counter IED-community is constantly developing its capabilities to stay ahead of an ever more advanced adversary. When it comes to safeguarding a nation’s territorial waters, governments have long lists of requirements to meet today’s and future threats. This complex environment is not just the domain of the counter IED-community; other government agencies such as the Coast Guard, Customs, Police or Rescue Services also see an increasing need to perform safe and effective underwater operations in similar environments. Even though the operational profiles may vary between these different agencies, the basic underwater capability requirements remain the same.

Today, most underwater threats are disposed of manually by highly trained EOD divers – a costly and often dangerous operation. The simple fact that the Sea Wasp is operated remotely by a two-person team, allowing a safe distance between the operators and the threat significantly reduces the risks. Furthermore, since unconventional explosive devices are usually well camouflaged and difficult to detect, specific functionality has been developed in Sea Wasp for this, including high performance sensors. Ultimately, operational safety is perhaps one of the most important advantages of using robot systems.

Similar parallels could also be drawn for India, due to increased tensions with the neighbouring countries the internal threats and acts of terrorisms are on the rise. These internal security threats are as significant for surface/under-water assets as these are for other land-based assets. As it stands now, Indian Navy is keenly looking for solutions to counter these threats and Sea Wasp would provide a capable solution for the Indian Navy to meet their requirements.

SYSTEM CAPABILITIES

The operator connects to the ROV by means of an electrical/optical cable for power and communication. The range is only limited by the length of the cable and the maximum operating depth is150 meters. With a basic weight of 75 kilograms and a speed of just over 2.5 knots, the underwater vehicle navigates to a pre-defined location using waypoints overlaid onto a chart interface.

Sea Wasp’s onboard Doppler Velocity Log (DVL) and Internal Measurement Unit (IMU) deliver navigational capability. The system can save, import and export specific waypoints. Obstacles under water are detected by the sonar and automatically avoided. The ROV’s ability to manoeuver with six degrees of freedom gives it maximum freedom of movement and control. Experience has shown that Sea Wasp can reliably locate, identify and engage underwater objects, even in confined spaces and under difficult conditions such as strong currents. Transportable over land in a light support vehicle, the Sea Wasp can be deployed from harbour walls or the beach. It can also be fitted to surface support vessels, and can easily be loaded onto a range of different boats, including, rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) and workboats, depending on the mission requirements.

Of course, it is important to remember that a technical system alone does not provide the operational capability. An operational capability requires many other components such as trained personnel and effective logistic support. Sharing a single system across different mission types can reduce costs and increase operational efficiency. This is why it is so important to consider the system’s footprint; logistical, organizational, operational and financial and then evaluate the overall capability the system provides. This is where Sea Wasp stands out.

MULTI-OPERATIONAL IN ALL DOMAINS

From the outset a key driver behind the development of the Sea Wasp system has been operational flexibility. It is a key tenet of any EOD tool that it needs to be flexible and that modularity is crucial to achieving that. Therefore, the basic Sea Wasp configuration can be tailored and adapted to meet the requirements of each mission, for instance by adding payloads. In today’s tight economic climate, there is more and more pressure for a single asset to be able to support a range of capabilities; hardware needs to be multi-functional.

Sea Wasp can be used in a wide range of civil and military operations, making it extremely cost effective for operators. In short, due to its small size and footprint, its maneuverability and its relatively light weight, Saab’s Sea Wasp underwater system is perfectly designed to meet the full range of operational challenges.