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Unmanned, Autonomous Avoidance of Active Acoustics Harassment of Marine Mammals


OUSD (R&E) MODERNIZATION PRIORITY: General Warfighting Requirements (GWR)




The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.


OBJECTIVE: Investigate and develop a conceptual design for a model prototype with a low-power, autonomous marine mammal harassment mitigation or avoidance capability for use during active sonar operations of unmanned, autonomous Deployable Surveillance Systems (DSS), whose feasibility is demonstrated using modeling and simulation (M&S).


DESCRIPTION: The U.S. Navy has been and continues to be a leader in environmental stewardship for maintaining a healthy marine ecology of the world’s oceans through its heavily funded research and environmental protection practices. Moreover, federal regulations have invoked certain policies for Navy to use mitigation practices in order to avoid harassment or injury to marine mammals when operating active sonar during training and testing operations. At the same time, federal law requires the Navy, under Title 10 of the U.S. code, to uphold its military obligation to defend the security interests of the nation that include use of its active sonar during training and testing operations during peacetime in order to maintain wartime readiness. The Navy continually sustains the required balance to keep in compliance with both federal laws. The scope of this SBIR topic concerns continuing to maintain this balance for DSS. Current mitigation practices enforced by the Navy require a human in-the-loop for visual sightings of nearby surfaced marine mammals during daytime operations of active sonar and/or passive acoustics to detect nearby vocalizing marine mammals during training and testing exercises. A technical problem/challenge for the proposer is to provide an innovative solution for conducting autonomous active sonar DSS operations by developing an unmanned, autonomous mitigation prototype without the requirement of human intervention for performing mitigation or avoidance procedures. DSS are a family of unmanned, autonomous systems which provide acoustic surveillance mission capabilities for maritime theater undersea warfare. Transition of DSS capability is accomplished through systems increments and spiral developments.


DSS is a middle-tier acquisition program with rapid-prototyping and rapid-fielding demands which necessitate modularity and shorter timeframes to transition DSS increments and spiral capabilities while still considering total ownership costs over the life of the capability (e.g., development, test/evaluation, sustainment, manufacturing, modernization, obsolescence, sunset) to transition the capability.


The purpose of an autonomous prototype is to: (a) detect vocalizing marine mammals with passive acoustic sensor(s) in the harassment range of active sonar operations; (b) replace the human lookout/on watch to look for non-vocalizing marine mammals; (c) make autonomous decisions to ascertain the presence of animal(s) in vicinity of operations in which case the sonar cannot go active; and (d) reduce active power emissions or turn off active sonar, as appropriate, if marine mammals are detected within a prescribed harassment area. The desired built-in prototype capability shall have low-power and shall be integrated into the autonomous prototype as a ‘go/no go’ decision for using active acoustics (vice as a modeling tool for understanding acoustic impact to marine mammals).


DSS systems, which may use active acoustics during operations, will need to avoid harassment of marine mammals, which could result in behavior modification or harm to marine mammals. Current military active acoustic harassment mitigations all include manned (human in-the-loop) operations.


The Navy needs an innovative solution that provides the ability to sense/detect, without any human involvement, marine mammals (whether vocalizing or not) that are within range of active acoustics harassment and prevent such harassment from occurring. If a potential harassment situation occurs, the goal is to provide and integrate decision-making algorithms to the DSS system to prevent, without any human involvement, such harassment with least impact to the DSS maritime surveillance mission that requires employment of its active sonar.


The solution must provide an energy-efficient capability that does not negatively impact power and energy needs in other areas of DSS system operations. Energy consumption is just one of many other examples. In a second example, when no marine mammals are present in the operating area and mitigation steps are not being required to reduce DSS operational source level, the automated marine mammal harassment mitigation prototype should not cause any interference or degradations to DSS normal mission/sonar operational performance capability. In a third example, the DSS prototype may be provided with a communications link to command authority with a mitigation disabling option for wartime combat missions. These are just a few trade-space examples. Offerors are asked to research, develop, and demonstrate new solutions to the stated problem.


Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. Owned and Operated with no Foreign Influence as defined by DOD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Counterintelligence Security Agency (DCSA). The selected contractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances, in order to perform on advanced phases of this contract as set forth by DCSA and NAVSEA in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advance phases of this contract.


PHASE I: Develop a conceptual design for an energy-efficient low-power, autonomous marine mammal harassment mitigation or avoidance capability, an innovative technology solution that will fill the current technology gap.


Base the solution on a model design identifying key elements that are used to determine the technical feasibility of the approach through computer modeling and simulation, and best available science. (Note: Examples of the available science on marine mammals and sonar technologies are provided as illustration in references 1 through 3.)


Identify anticipated performance milestones.


Demonstrate, via computer modeling and analysis, the operational feasibility for fielding the modeled design for a Phase II prototype build, test, and at-sea demonstration.


Provide: (a) a detailed description of the concept design (hardware and software) architecture; (b) description of the analytical approach, the methods and results of computer modeling and simulation (M&S) performed as a basis for justifying the proposed architecture; and (c) the plan for incorporating the proposed architecture into a prototype build in Phase II (Phase I Option).


The Phase I Option, if exercised, will include notional design specifications and a capabilities description to build a prototype in Phase II. Include how total operating costs of the solution can be addressed while maintaining state-of-the-art advances as future DSS increments and spirals are transitioned, for example, additive manufacturing, advanced materials, modularity of subcomponents.


PHASE II: Implement the proposed architecture developed in Phase I and deliver and test at-sea a prototype to implement an unmanned, autonomous solution for avoidance of active acoustics harassment of marine mammals for effective use of DSS systems using active acoustics. The feasibility of the proposed solution will be demonstrated in a variety of potential ocean environments, system integration architectures, and for mission concepts of operation using modeling tools. Build and demonstrate components or sub-components of the system to validate the accuracy of the model.


Validate that the prototype operates in accordance with the model in a laboratory or at-sea environment. Incorporate lessons learned from simulated computer simulation and modeling, actual at-sea acoustic measurement trials, and analysis of the collected test data into a full system design. A final prototype will be delivered at the end of Phase II.


It is probable that the work under this effort will be classified under Phase II (see Description for details).


PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Provide total operating costs of a transitioned capability (including but not limited to manufacturing, integration, deployment, sustainment, and modernization).


Support the Navy in transitioning the technology to Navy and commercial use. Further refine, fabricate, and implement the developed hardware and/or software to suit the operation of a capability for DSS systems to avoid active acoustics of marine mammals and support testing in laboratory and ocean environments to meet requirements for functionality, environmental extremes, reliability, safety, and other requirements to certify the system for Navy use. (Note: The Navy will support operational testing.) Deliver hardware/software, related documentation, support installation on existing systems, and retrofit technology for use in operational testing.


Provide an execution plan for commercial dual-use application of the advanced technology. One example of a technology application of an autonomous mitigation prototype device for dual-use in the commercial sector is in the commercial fishing and shipping industries for possible mitigation of net entanglements, bi-catch, and ship strikes.



  1. Finneran, J., Henderson, E., Houser, D., Jenkins, K., Kotecki, S., Mulsow, J., “Criteria and Thresholds for U.S. Navy Acoustic and explosive Effects Analysis (Phase III),” Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) Technical Report June 2017.
  2. Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (EIS/OEIS);
  3. Erbe, C., Reichmuth , K., Cunningham, K., Lucke, K., Dooling, R, “Communication masking in marine mammals: A review and research strategy,” 15-38, Elsevier Publ. Marine Pollution Bulletin (2015),
  4. NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service: Marine Mammal Acoustic Technical Guidance, 2018 Revision to: Technical Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing.
  5. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce;


KEYWORDS: Marine Mammal Harassment; Active Acoustics; Maritime Surveillance; Theater Undersea Warfare; behavioral response; auditory sensitivity

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