Navy kicks off largest unmanned exercise to date in Middle East
The Navy kicked off one of its signature maritime exercises this week, adding to it for the first time a major unmanned systems component and scenarios to test artificial intelligence-enabled tech.
The 2022 edition of the International Maritime Exercise (IMX) is being held in the Middle East and led by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command alongside 60 partner nations and organizations to participate over the course of the 18 days. And 10 of those partner nations have brought along more than 80 unmanned systems to test — the largest group of unmanned platforms used in a naval exercise to date, according to the command known as Fifth Fleet.
The U.S. Navy is leading coordination on the unmanned systems involved in the experiment and using it as a testing ground for new tech, officers told reporters Wednesday. It’s the first time such systems and AI have been tested at an IMX since it was started in 2012.
“We are really excited about IMX because the size and scale of it will really allow us to get a lot of experience,” Cmdr. Tom McAndrew, exercise planner for unmanned systems and AI integration, said in a roundtable with reporters.
Countries involved in the exercise include Bahrain, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and others. The Fifth Fleet hopes to run through training exercises to enhance command and control, sea control, maritime security operations, and mine countermeasures.
“This level of representation demonstrates shared resolve in preserving the rules-based international order,” Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said in a statement. “This is a unique opportunity to increase our capabilities and interoperability while strengthening maritime ties.”
Conducting the unmanned and artificial intelligence aspects of the exercise will be Capt. Michael Brasseur, the commodore for Fifth Fleet’s unmanned group, Task Force 59. Brasseur was tapped to lead an IMX-specific Task Force X for all unmanned work.
McAndrew, who also serves as Brasseur’s deputy on Task Force 59, told reporters Wednesday that the exercise will test how AI can be used to process data pulled from unmanned systems and increase domain awareness through an array of sensors.
McAndrew added the task force has been coordinated with the Navy’s Project Overmatch, its Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) contribution. JADC2 is the new construct the military is using to link sensors and shooters across domains, and for the Navy that means improving maritime networks to increase the amount of data commanders can use to maneuver at, below and above the sea.