The NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC) introduced serious gaming techniques to its Defence Against Terrorism program in its search for ways to protect ports against attacks.
The La Spezia, Italy-based NURC hosted the Harbour Protection Table Top Exercise (HPT2E) from March 20-23, with 22 participating organizations from eight NATO nations. It focused on protecting military forces, shipments and critical civilian infrastructure in ports and harbors during times of high threat alert.
The exercise allows participants to practice escalating levels of nonlethal defense against an intruder approaching a warship (at anchor or leaving port) or an energy facility such as an offshore gas platform.
All commands and responses were carried out on computer screens. To add to the realism of the exercise, the computerized version of the port was based on La Spezia. HPT2E was carried out on NURC’s Open Sea Tactical Theater Simulator, with Ron Kessel, NURC scientist and OpenSea project leader, describing HPT2E as “a significant advance in tactical gaming.”
The event featured a series of attacker-defender tactical vignettes played out in the virtual port environment.
The defenders, known as the blue team, were a mix of military personnel and scientists. Playing the “red team” role was Lt. Cmdr. Nick Gwatkin of the U.K. Royal Navy, currently attached to NURC as a mine-countermeasures staff officer and a mine-clearance diver by training.
“It would be very easy for me on a Jet Ski to just hammer in and win, but that wouldn’t achieve anything,” he said. “Instead, I would make various approaches, and that would allow different levels of response to be used.”
Defender responses began with warning hails and escalated to laser dazzlers and flashbangs that would temporarily blind an attacker. Such tactics, Gwatkin added, could be used against most attackers, including terrorists, regular forces, or special forces.
What was most important, however, was collecting good intelligence to warn of any potential attacks.
“If you’re not closed up and ready, [these measures] are not much use,” he said.
Small watercraft such as Jet Skis are a particularly difficult potential adversary, given their small size, speed, maneuverability and the difficulty of judging their intentions in different parts of the world.
Gwatkin said he had personally experienced young men on Jet Skis doing doughnuts and other maneuvers around warships leaving U.K. ports.
“Depending on where you are in the world, you either look out of the window and think, ‘idiot,’ or you may have to take different action,” he said. In the exercise, one of the two patrol boats escorting the warship out of harbor inserted itself between the Jet Ski and the major combatant.
The final half-day of the exercise was given over to analysis of the previous days’ events. No further details have so far been released.