DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
At the Coast Guard station on Sand Island Wednesday, the Navy demonstrated its REMUS 100 unmanned underwater vehicle, which it uses to search for mines in harbors. A camera can be mounted on the front to map the harbor bottoms to compare with a previous mappings to see if anything unfamiliar has been added.
‘Mineful’ undersea vehicles
A multiagency effort stages an anti-mine exercise in the waters of Honolulu Harbor
The Navy and the Coast Guard conducted a four-day exercise last week in Honolulu Harbor to test the techniques and procedures for using unmanned, underwater vehicles and sonar to search for mines planted by terrorists.
Remus 100 Underwater Vehicle
» Manufacturer: Hydroid LLC
» Diameter: 7.5 inches
» Weight: 80 pounds
» Depth: 326 feet
» Military use: Mine counter measure operations
The protection of Hawaii's ports and harbors is critical to the security and economy of the state since more than 98 percent of all imported goods come via ships, said Capt. Barry Compagnoni, Coast Guard captain of the Port of Honolulu.
"Time is one of the challenges in getting these ports open as quickly as possible," said Compagnoni, whose job is to police island harbors.
The exercise, which ended Thursday, was the last phase of an experiment that began in April involving the REMUS 100 (remote environmental measuring units) underwater vehicles and representatives from the Navy's mine countermeasures unit; the Coast Guard, which is responsible for the protection of island harbors; and city and state homeland defense officials.
Cmdr. Scott Outlaw, chief staff officer for the Navy's Mine Countermeasure Squadron 1, said four members of his unit from Ingleside, Texas, used three 67-inch long unmanned underwater vehicles to search for items planted in Honolulu Harbor. The 80-pound drones were equipped with imaging sonar and followed a pre-programmed route during six-hour searches.
"All the information was stored in the underwater vehicle and then downloaded after the vehicle was recovered," Outlaw said.
He said the information was compared with an underwater map of the same sector which was done in April.
"The sonar is so sensitive that it will pick up objects like a tire," Outlaw said.
During an actual anti-terrorist operation, divers would be sent to verify anything that appears to be out of place, he added.
Compagnoni said the exercise is "just one more opportunity for the Coast Guard and Navy to work together. The great thing about this exercise is that it provides another opportunity for us to work together and we would have worked through constraints before a real crisis occurred. Therefore we would be more effective."
During the April underwater scan of Honolulu Harbor, Compagnoni said the sonar images revealed that there were "tremendous amounts of clutter and debris" on the ocean floor in Honolulu Harbor where the depth ranges from 40 to 50 feet.
He said that one of the side benefits from the survey is that it will help the Coast Guard in one of its other missions, controlling pollution of Honolulu Harbor.
Once the floor of Honolulu Harbor was mapped, the Navy, Coast Guard and state and city civil defense and homeland security officials met in June to discuss port security threats and "identify issues that would arise," Compagnoni said.
Capt. Jim Berdeguez, who commands the Naval Oceanographic Command, described last week's exercise as a maritime homeland defense experiment that will help develop "the tactics, techniques and procedures" for the employment of mine countermeasures.
Berdeguez said the experiment is "to bring new technologies and remove man from the minefield."
He said the Navy is using the REMUS 100 unmanned underwater vehicle developed by Hydroid LLC, of Pocasset, Mass. Each underwater vehicle costs $500,000.
Commercially, the REMUS is used for hydrographic surveys, harbor security, environmental monitoring, debris field mapping, search and salvage operations, fishery operations and scientific sampling and mapping. The REMUS is designed for operations in coastal waters, going as deep as 328 feet.
Navy officials said similar exercises were held in San Diego Harbor in December 2007 and Los Angeles and Long Beach four years earlier. They also hope to revisit Honolulu Harbor annually to update its map of the ocean floor there.