BRUSSELS — As militaries around the world invest in advanced technology, the need to test the capabilities of new systems for military operations is critical — both to ensure the training of personnel as well as the effective integration with existing platforms.

Dozens of unmanned underwater, surface and air vehicles from NATO countries gathered in Portugal in September for Exercise REP (MUS) 19 to do just that: test technological advances in unmanned maritime systems networks.

Defense News recently received details about the exercise from a NATO official.

In a nutshell, what is Exercise REP (MUS) 19?

REP (MUS) 19 was built on the 10th annual Portuguese underwater exercise Recognised Environmental Picture (REP), with support from NATO’s Maritime Unmanned Systems (MUS) initiative, the NATO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation, and the University of Porto’s Laboratory for Underwater Systems and Technology.

The NATO Maritime Unmanned Systems Initiative (MUSI) was launched in October 2018 to promote capability development and interoperability in the field of maritime unmanned systems.

What did NATO hope to learn from this exercise?

The focus of REP (MUS) 19 was on technological and procedural interoperability. Participating nations tested the integration and coordination of activities between multiple unmanned systems from allied nations in the three domains — above the water, on the water and underwater.

This was the first time that so many NATO nations had the opportunity to test together the effectiveness of systems, concepts, techniques and procedures related to maritime unmanned systems, ensuring they can work seamlessly together, bringing together dozens of unmanned underwater, surface and air vehicles for maritime operations.

Who participated?

The systems were from the Portuguese Navy, as well as from the NATO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation, from Belgium, Italy, Poland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. During REP (MUS) 19, participants from naval forces, from industry and from academia jointly contributed assets to the operational demonstrations and worked together to test new technological advances and procedures for maritime unmanned systems in real-life operational scenarios.

What is the potential for unmanned systems among allies?

New maritime unmanned systems technologies can be a game-changer in countering multiple threats in the maritime domain. Using maritime unmanned vehicles can help effectively counter new submarines armed with more powerful weapons. They can also prevent military personnel from moving into risky situations in countering threats like sea mines.

Martin Banks covered the European Union, NATO and affairs in Belgium for Defense News.

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