ONR Scout Tests Tech to Track Illegal Shipping > US Navy > News Stories


The purpose of the program was to find creative solutions to identify “dark targets” – aircraft or watercraft with little to no radio frequency signature – located in the maritime operational areas covered by the Joint Interoperability Task Force South (JIATF-S). He looked for ways to use unmanned technologies to expand intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities beyond traditional maritime surveillance aircraft such as the P-3 Orion and P-8 Poseidon.

JIATF-S currently works with US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) and partner navies to use all-domain technologies and unmanned capabilities to target, detect and interdict illicit drug trafficking in the air and sea domains. This facilitates interdiction and deterrence to reduce drug flows, as well as to degrade and dismantle transnational criminal organizations.

ONR Scout is an ongoing multi-agency pilot campaign to identify alternative ways to bring, deploy, and scale unmanned technologies to warfighter problems. SCOUT is committed to rapidly bringing non-traditional, commercial-off-the-shelf, government-developed and/or government-sponsored technologies into the fleet.

“SCOUT is an innovation vehicle and investment strategy to rapidly develop autonomous platforms that address today’s warfighter challenges,” said Adm. Lorin Selby, Chief of Naval Research. “By testing with partners like JIATF-S, we can connect innovators, industry, procurement professionals and aviation stakeholders to attack and solve major problems.”

“This is a pressing issue for JIATF-S because every day there are multiple suspects in close proximity to vessels and in the vicinity of smuggling operations,” said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cm. Duane Zitta, JIATF-S chief of operational demonstration and testing. “Due to this vast environment, JIATF-S is seeking alternative capabilities and technologies to provide unmanned countermeasures capable of detecting and tracking suspicious activity, ultimately helping to prevent illicit traffic into the United States.”

The JEB Little Creek-Fort history test event was a partnership involving ONR SCOUT, JIATF-S, the Naval Research and Development Establishment, and industry partners in the Chesapeake Bay area. It was one of several Sprint events (scenario-based demonstrations of technology capabilities and features) held this year, leading up to a major major testing event in March 2023.

During the Chesapeake Bay event, participants engaged in “cat-and-mouse” games on the captured “Gotcha” boat, a special vessel owned by SOTCOM and GIFF-S that was formerly used by drug traffickers. They engaged in simulated drug-running and manhunt scenarios. In JIATF-S, and various targets of interest.

Participants used sophisticated sensor systems and technologies, from integrated drones to wide area motion imagery. Data collected during the exercise was fed into an on-site maritime operations center and integrated to provide operators with real-time information about targets and the performance of each technology.

The technology tested at JEB Little Creek-Fort Story will be further refined and refined before the March 2023 major test event.

“OnR officials have identified us as an important technology maturity partner to engage with industry,” said Jeffrey Havlicek, J7 Director of Innovation and Technology. Collaborative technology will truly increase all boats in the common stability of maritime commerce and security.

We are grateful for the technology maturation efforts that have drawn on ONR’s expertise and interest. “The best part is that we’re getting more naval operators like us with data integration, mission planning, autonomous detection of dark maritime threats, and automated capabilities for improved naval logistics.



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