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Systems Engineering Students Confront Maritime IED Threat

Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) students from the Systems Engineering Analysis (SEA) program presented, on Dec. 11, 2008, the findings of their capstone project, which addressed the threat of maritime improvised explosive devices (MIEDs) in U.S. ports.Jointly operated by the Operations Research and Systems Engineering (SE) Departments,SEA provides unrestricted line officers a foundation in analysis and systems engineering. According to SE Prof. Chuck Calvano, students in the program are required to complete a capstone project that introduces them to the "analytical, political, strategic, tactical and technical issues surrounding an important Navy problem - and more importantly - an understanding of a repeatable process that can be utilized for many problems."

Based on inputs from OPNAV N8F and Commander, U.S. Third Fleet, the SEA-14 student team was tasked with designing a system of systems to address threats posed to U.S. ports by MIEDs. According to the team, underwater explosive devices pose a significant threat because they are cheap, easy to obtain, and are difficult to prevent and respond to.

Lt. Bobby Rowden, the SEA-14 project manager, outlined the need for an effective, joint operational strategy to address the high-impact threats to the country's waterways.

While several national policy documents have been established, such as the National Strategy for Maritime Security, these strategies have not been translated into clear roles at the tactical and operational level, Rowden said.

Lt. Mike Hellard noted that a successful attack on a major U.S. port could create more financially damaging effects than the terrorist acts of September 11 or natural disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. While the probability of a mining attack on a U.S. port is low, Hellard said, the impact of such an attack is far-reaching and high.

"Planes flying into buildings was also probably considered a low probability event on Sept. 10, 2001, but on Sept. 11 that paradigm rapidly changed," he added.

With assistance from the curriculum sponsors, the students traveled around the country studying potential threats and vulnerabilities to major ports and waterways. SEA-14 also used the Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation (JCATS) program to conduct an analysis of the systems in the Port of Seattle, making them the first SEA group to ever utilize war-gaming for its capstone project.

Following their initial research, the students formed baseline systems from current structures and developed several alternative adaptive force packages (AFP) to better meet future counter-MIED objectives.

The team concluded that an AFP based on the Talisman Autonomous Underwater Vehicle and another AFP based on the unmanned vehicle sentry provide the highest level of performance for the lowest cost, while also offering the most effective long-term solutions.

The students also noted the importance of establishing national objectives that include a list of priority ports and response and recovery timelines. They emphasized the need for ports to take local action by identifying critical infrastructure and key assets as well as developing a communication system that can be used in the event of an attack.

Hellard pointed out that a baseline survey is the most cost-effective form of insurance for the country's ports and is the key to utilizing change detection. He reported that baseline surveys for military ports have already been established by the U.S. Navy Fleet Forces Command. Because many of the Navy's ports share the same waterways as some of the country's most active ports, the team believes it is possible to establish a collaborative national baseline survey program.

Associate Prof. Gene Paulo, faculty advisor for SEA-14, called the group's project an outstanding research effort aimed at an extremely complex problem. "This is the sixth SEA project that I have led as the faculty advisor, and clearly the overall quality of the research and final report from SEA-14 is the best yet," he said. "Not only is their work of great interest to DoD (Department of Defense) and Navy leadership, but the quality is such that I expect an edited version of it to be published in a relevant journal."


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