A recent article published by NATO on July 29, 2020 highlights the growing focus of attention within NATO on maritime remote systems.
Michael Brasseur is a naval warfare expert at the US Mission to NATO. This former captain of two warships who has sailed and served all over the world, now works at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Together with experts from other NATO Allies, he is working to help enhance the Alliance’s technological edge on critical maritime capabilities.
“It’s my job to leverage NATO’s vast innovation ecosystem to ensure Allied sailors have the very best technology to accomplish their mission of keeping the seas free,” says Michael.
Michael and his counterparts in NATO member countries are looking for cutting-edge capabilities that can give Allied sailors a tactical advantage at sea. They have recently focused on the rapid advancements underway in maritime unmanned systems. “We are only just beginning to realise the game-changing capabilities these systems offer and I am focused on accelerating their development and integration into Allied navies,” explains Michael.
In October 2018, Michael helped launch a Maritime Unmanned Systems (MUS) initiative. Today, 14 Allies1 are working together to develop and procure maritime technology that will increase operational effectiveness, limit risk to human life and reduce operational costs, and Michael is at the heart of this initiative. Several other Allies have recognised the value of this fast-paced initiative and have expressed intent to join.
Ensuring free access to the seas
Maritime unmanned systems are drones above, on and below the water. Allied navies use them on many different occasions to enhance the capabilities of manned platforms. Working alongside traditional naval assets, these unmanned systems can also improve situational awareness, which is critical in ensuring free access to the seas.
“Seventy per cent of the planet is covered by water,” explains Michael. “Maritime unmanned systems are important because these systems, if harnessed correctly, can greatly improve our ability to understand the maritime environment, and thus ensure the seas remain open for commerce.”
At sea, mines, terrorist activities, smuggling and piracy are threats to NATO Allies’ ability to operate freely in maritime commons. The use of unmanned systems will enable Allies to be more effective in crucial capability areas, such as finding and tracking suspicious submarines or detecting mines.
“MUS, when teamed with manned systems, offer a means to detect, localise and neutralise a mine, without putting the operator in danger,” comments Michael.
Cherishing work and life
Michael loves his job for many reasons. “First, the opportunity to work with friends and Allies every day is a true joy,” says Michael. “On this project, I have developed strong professional and personal relationships that I will cherish for my entire life. I also really enjoy discovering new technologies and I get a lot of energy when I engage with academia and industry.”
Michael, a father of four, with two teenage sons who love physics, computers and artificial intelligence, think their dad is pretty cool working on all this high-tech. “My boys also think NATO is very cool!”
Many of Michael’s colleagues don’t know that he is also a survivor. “In 2016, following my tour as captain of USS Forth Worth, I was diagnosed with stage 2, classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It has certainly given me a completely different outlook on life. I cherish every single second, like these wonderful experiences at NATO, living in Brussels and working with friends and Allies across Europe.”
Testing drones in real-life scenarios
Each year in Portugal, Michael participates in testing Allied innovative maritime unmanned systems in scenarios such as search and rescue operations, harbour protection, and anti-submarine and naval mine warfare during exercise Recognized Environmental Picture, Maritime Unmanned Systems (REP (MUS)).
“REP (MUS) is the largest maritime unmanned systems exercise of its kind in Europe and achieved last year many critical firsts for NATO in terms of interoperability,” explains Michael.
Over 800 personnel from the Portuguese Navy, as well as from Belgium, Italy, Poland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the NATO Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation contributed to the exercise.
Michael feels that we are at a key inflection point in history. “The pace of innovation has become exponential and our institutions need to move faster. We have made significant progress, but we have much more work to do, to improve, accelerate and scale this important initiative.”