|The dramatic appearance of the Greek SSK class submarine PROTEUS, coming to the surface for the benefit of the awaiting photographers, Photo by MCPO Silvestrin, ITA Navy.
Last week, Exercise Proud Manta 2011 came to a conclusion after two weeks of intense Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) activity. Ten NATO nations provided six submarines, 19 aircraft (including ship-borne helicopters) and eight surface ships for NATO's largest annual event of this type. Operating in the Ionian Sea to the Southeast of Sicily contributing forces from Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States trained and practiced at being both hunter and hunted.
A Royal Navy helicopter squadron took part in Proud Manta for the first time with Merlin Mk1 maritime patrol helicopters from 814 Naval Air Squadron flying 2,250km across Europe from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in Helston, Cornwall in order to take part in the exercise and practice hunting submarines alongside other NATO helicopters. According to United States Navy Captain Walt Luthiger, Chief of Staff of COMSUBSOUTH and the Exercise Director the exercise was a resounding success: "The participants reached all the exercise objectives I had set and more. I am very very satisfied with the results so far although it will take time to carry out a full analysis”.
Another new addition to this year's exercise was the inclusion of gliders (low-cost unmanned, autonomous undersea vehicles) in support of the exercise. Developed by the NATO Undersea Research Centre (NURC), La Spezia, Italy, the gliders collected in situ, 3-dimensional environmental data to support improved operational planning and decision-making tools. As opposed to traditional propelled autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), gliders use shifts in mass to steer and changes in buoyancy to dive and surface, and can stay at-sea for very long periods of time.
For 18 days the gliders operated autonomously, sending data every three hours through an Iridium satellite link back to a command and control room at NURC. The gliders offered a complete and real-time synthesis of oceanographic data of the Proud Manta exercise area, which helped participants mitigate the impact of environmental uncertainties on operations. "We have developed sophisticated models and software to ensure effective glider mission planning and safe operations management during the exercise - according to Michel Rixen, NURC's Proud Manta 11 scientist-in-charge - Glider data have been exploited continuously in ocean prediction systems and anti-submarine warfare tactical decision aids to support and optimize operational planning and asset management”. For example, temperature, salinity, and optical data help understanding environmental conditions that impact the operational effectiveness of submarines. "The environmental information provided by the 'gliders' has proved valuable and helped everyone in that very difficult job of finding submarines that don't want to be found,” said Luthiger.
For Rear Admiral Gualtiero Mattesi Commander Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) speaking from his flagship ITS ETNA, the exercise had been of particular success in two ways. "It has offered excellent training opportunities for all the participants getting everyone, ships, planes, helicopters and submarines, all talking to one another and improving their communications and methods. It is also important to note that everything took place with excellent levels of safety and security throughout the entire period of the exercise.”
Proud Manta 11 ended with an all-day live media event which included lifting members of the media to ITS ETNA from where they could observe German frigate LUEBECK, Italian and UK helicopters and a German P-3C engage in submarine hunting and attack. The climax of the slowly unfolding drama was the dramatic appearance of the Greek SSK class submarine PROTEUS, which for the benefit of the awaiting photographers, came to the surface.
Asked by the media why all this was still relevant to NATO Captain Luthiger pointed out that the number of submarines in the world continues to increase and many nations clearly consider them a must-have in their national arsenals. "There is no perceived specific threat to NATO but training in this area is vital to NATO's state of preparedness. Proud Manta is like taking out good insurance in advance.”