This feature article appeared first in the 2023 issue of the CTMA Magazine. CTMA’s annual publication highlights advancements in military maintenance and sustainment, as well as reviews of NCMS Technology Showcases, symposiums, workshops, and a growing list of virtual and in-person events.
View Full Magazine: https://www.ncms.org/news/ctma-magazine/
Sustaining and modernizing the Navy fleet to the pace of strategic imperatives and dynamic deployments requires a paradigm shift blending maintenance and operations. The Navy recognizes that traditional and nontraditional avenues must be utilized to accelerate new solutions. The United States has been a leader in technology and industry for more than a century, and a large volume of available industrial technologies show great potential for use by the Navy. Recognizing this, the NAVSEA 05T1 Naval Expeditionary Sustainment and Repair (NESAR) team held the first Navy Repair Technology Exercise (REPTX) in 2022 to employ a new approach for proving readiness and ability of existing industrial solutions to solve Navy sustainment needs.
Navy REPTX 2022 was a complete revamp of typical demonstration exercises by putting innovative technologies to work, both pier-side and underway, on board an active Navy ship—the Self Defense Test Ship (SDTS) ex-USS Paul F. Foster EDD 964. During the two-week event, participants quickly realized that many commercially available technologies could be immediately employed, instantly narrowing sustainment gaps. Equally important, countless companies are eager to work with the Navy and adapt with surprising speed to field high-caliber solutions.
The REPTX Framework
The NESAR team partnered with NCMS, requesting that NCMS invite their trusted network of industry and academic partners, with technologies at a high technology readiness level (TRL), to perform in a live environment in four sustainment focus areas:
- Visualization: Navy assets need dynamic visualization and inspection methods to “see” themselves and the world surrounding them. For example, ships need to “see” above and below the water line, and inside and outside of the hull.
- Command and Control (C2) Aids: Naval Commanders require the ability to make rapid, data-driven decisions for command, control, and sustainment. Integrating data from various external sources while aboard and displaying holistic operational views (OVs) enable real-time situational assessment and rapid, precise decision-making.
- Forward Manufacturing: The Navy needs the ability to reduce the tyranny of distance for supply chains, particularly in contested environments. Forward manufacturing hubs, including additive manufacturing (AM), enable greater ship readiness in theater.
- Expeditionary Sustainment: The Navy requires the ability to perform maintenance operations underway and in forward locations to improve ships materiel condition and build battle damage repair competencies.
- Turnout was greater than expected, as 73 organizations applied and 68 were asked to participate. During the exercise, technologies were immersed in real-world conditions by performing activities on the ship in two main ways.
First, scenarios modeled true life situations simulating real-world damage and repair events. Designed by a team of active duty and civilian DOD personnel, activities included routine tasks, shipboard maintenance, equipment repairs, and battle damage response. Over eight days, an unprecedented 53 scenarios were executed, engaging all technologies.
Second, participating organizations worked in cooperative teams to complete objectives, which is a key element for deploying in a true conflict—no technology operates alone in any situation.
Real-world problems require rapid actions demanding ease of use and a low learning curve for technology to truly be effective. Surge maintenance reservist sailors assessed practicality through direct operation of each technology.
REPTX 2022 provided a venue to not only conduct operational testing, but also to allow real-time collaborations among the participants to solve issues. Teams would reach obstacles and immediately engage in problem-solving, which often brought unexpected results, sometimes by adding technologies not originally involved in that scenario. For example, on day one, a cable-pulling technology did not have a pick point to anchor their tooling; seeking assistance from a heavy-duty magnet company allowed the team to complete their objectives. This same cable puller/magnet combination was later used as a portable hoist to lift and lower equipment down a trunk. In another scenario, a company repaired their disabled generator with distance support through a head-worn augmented reality (AR) set provided by another participating company.
The entire two-week event demonstrated that no one technology would completely solve any complex problem, thus proving that a paradigm shift for implementation of new solutions is required. We need to break away from seeking “silver bullet” technologies, only to later vie for multiple use cases. Navy REPTX 2022 substantiated the power that lies in industry’s ability to work quickly and collaboratively to field ready integrated solution sets for solving real needs.
The event further showed that developers are eager to help address the Navy’s challenges. Participants presented solutions beyond the scope of the REPTX exercise and often asked to solve problems they recognized on ship, without compensation. For instance, one robotics company found and captured video of known but previously unlocated leaks in the prop shaft seals. REPTX taught us that when you propose problems to an industry that thrives on overcoming challenges, they will find the best way to provide ready solutions.
The NESAR team is investing $2 million in technology integration and is rapidly fielding REPTX-identified solution sets in each focus area. Through REPTX, they began with the end in mind, carefully defining specific problems that need resolution. The REPTX model is based on the understanding that solutions must provide value in regular operations and organic Navy sustainment, not just emergencies. Further, technology that still needs development to enable application in specific use cases does not help forward operators. Therefore, fielding must be rapid on multiple active assets, leading to improved efficacy. Feedback leads back to examination of requirements, keeping the end problem in mind, to increase ability and scale to the need.
The NESAR team is taking next steps for each focus area in the following ways:
- Visualization: 3D dynamic digital visual models of ships will soon be continuously updated using unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles, and hand-carried devices. One new partnership, with the University of Houston, has developed full-ship scanning, resulting in interactive 3D ship models with corrosion identification and severity assessment. Additional partnerships—with Serco, Google, Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific, and Naval Warfare Centers—will perform full 3D scanning above and below water, inside and out of water, and field initial capability by mid year.
- Command and Control (C2) Aids: Subject Matter Expert (SME) support is needed when maintenance problems occur, even if SMEs are not on site. To further test options for distance support connections between forward operators and remote SMEs, a “mini-REPTX” in March 2023 at Port of Hueneme tested multiple AR technology solutions to identify which can be rapidly fielded by June 2023.
- Forward Manufacturing: Production-ready advanced manufacturing equipment capable of metal and composite fabrication are targeted for forward fielding. This effort will reduce dependency on strained logistics systems and allow ships to manufacture repair parts at the point of use. REPTX participant SPEE3D, a cold spray additive manufacturing technology, will be conducting a “Moonshot” initiative to additively manufacture SUBSAFE certified parts. Furthermore, compact and portable cold spray equipment is being deployed shipboard for forward use restoring metal components in place after corrosion or wear.
- Expeditionary Sustainment: Expeditionary sustainment containers tested at REPTX showed the possibilities for portable modular machine shops in ISO standard shipping containers. Integrated Solutions for Systems (IS4S) containers have been further demonstrated at multiple exercises including Atlantic Thunder SINKX and EX-DENVER SINKX. In cooperation with the Coast Guard, Marines, Air Force, Army, and SOCOM, IS4S is fielding platforms to forward locations. Further, a partnership with Sarcos Robotics will enable teleoperated and autonomous robotic platforms to perform work in hazardous and inaccessible areas. Use cases for the Navy, Coast Guard, and SOCOM will employ the Guardian Sea Class UUV with multi-function arms.
Planning for additional REPTX events is underway. The Navy recognizes that REPTX and the NESAR program can play a critical role in enduring Naval readiness by quickly fielding ready solutions for expeditionary sustainment. Such efforts will keep ships afloat and offer combat utility, significantly improving the Navy’s ability to operate and maintain control in a global theater.