Under its previous title, the NURC, which began life as a capability for countering soviet submarines in the Atlantic, was recognised as a world leader in underwater acoustics and sonar technology. As submarine designs improved, and their noise signature reduced, NURC responded by developing improved active sonar's and the Low Frequency Active Towed Array Sonar. In 1988 the research vessel Alliance, the first NATO-owned ship (although she flies a German flag) was delivered to the Centre. She remains one of the most sophisticated undersea research platforms at sea today.
Following the fall of the Berlin wall and the decline of the Soviet Union the submarine threat largely disappeared. The centre already was diversifying its research programmes expanding its activities into other underwater research programs such as oceanography and environmental acoustics. The early nineties brought new challenges to the alliances militaries with more emphasis on the problems associated with operating in shallow confined waters and led to another shift in research. Mine countermeasures, military oceanography in coastal waters and underwater battle space assessment became the new horizons for the Underwater Research Centre. A major focus of effort was the development of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, which are used by researchers of the expeditionary mine countermeasure group to locate and neutralize mines and underwater ammunition dumps. This technology is expected to enable the transformation of mine-hunting techniques in the next generation of Mine Warfare equipment, addressing some of NATO's Long Term Capability Requirements, while complementing existing mine-hunting methods in the interim.
After the 9/11 attacks in the USA, the potential vulnerability of world ports as targets for terrorism as well as gateways for international crime such as drug smuggling, human trafficking and arms smuggling received more attention. Recent events have also shown that low-tech terrorism and pirate attacks can also be devastatingly effective in disrupting commerce. Such hostile actions not only threaten port security but also anchored ships and ships along heavily used routes, both military and civilian. Researchers from the NURC are working on new techniques to defend maritime forces and ports against such actions by developing a capability to detect, track and deter hostile forces through the application of detection and assessment software, less lethal repellent technologies, acoustic barriers and AUVs.
Responding to an operational need of NATO collectively, and nations on an individual basis, the NURC changed its Charter to include customized programmes that provide services and assistance to NATO or individual nations through different sponsors. These activities, which are often based on adapting commercial technologies to meet military requirements, serve to accelerate the implementation of new capabilities.
The NATO Research Vessel (NRV) Alliance was in Latvian waters recently, engaged in a collaborative sea trial (COLLOSSUS 2) between NURC and the Latvian Navy to test a range of modern mine-hunting systems based on autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). The sea trial successfully demonstrated that AUVs, and the supporting data/image processing techniques being developed at NURC, are able to perform faster searches in large complex areas, producing high quality images with improved resolution. An ACT subsidiary, the NURC is nonetheless an important player in the operational environment.