Career lights a spark for sailor

With undersea technology moving towards robotic and autonomous systems, it’s an exciting time to be in mine warfare, according to Able Seaman Grayden Ash.

CAPTIONAble Seaman Grayden Ash inspects the SeaFox expendable mine neutralisation system onboard a mine countermeasure support boat during Exercise Dugong 24. Story by Corporal Michael Rogers. Photo by Leading Seaman Sittichai Sakonpoonpol.

The autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) operator put his skills to the test during Exercise Dugong, using sonar data from the Bluefin-9 and -12 systems to search and identify mine threats.

Mine warfare sailors interpret the data to identify potential mine-like contacts, and improved sonar quality makes it easier for operators to identify mines.

“With advancements in emerging technologies like AUVs, it allows us to conduct our operations in a safer manner ‘outside of the minefield’. It’s a really good time to be in the unit,” Able Seaman Ash said.

Working from ADV Guidance, the team deployed over the horizon in mine countermeasure support boats to launch their autonomous and remotely operated vehicles.

The role of an AUV operator can range from mission planning and execution, AUV launch and recovery, and post-mission analysis.

“We get designated a search area and we design our missions to best use our AUV’s capability in the environment, to optimise the quality of our sonar data,” Able Seaman Ash said.

CAPTIONAble Seaman Grayden Ash conducts maintenance on the Bluefin 9 autonomous underwater vehicle at HMAS Waterhen in Sydney. Photo by Leading Seaman Daniel Goodman.

Once the seabed has been searched and potential contacts acquired, the Seafox Expendable Mine Neutralisation System is deployed to identify and, if needed, neutralise the threat.

For the Maritime Deployable Robotic and Autonomous Systems Experimentation Unit, based at HMAS Waterhen, Dugong was the first major exercise since completing its Unit Readiness Evaluation in 2023.

“Having the opportunity to deploy to Ex Dugong with other units was an excellent chance for us to show off our capability to the wider Navy,” Able Seaman Ash said.

“It showcased what we can achieve as well as learn from other units and nations to improve how we operate.”

Able Seaman Ash was first drawn to the role while looking for a hands-on job working with new technology after high school.

“Mine warfare seemed to be the way to go. It just seemed exciting, locating sea mines and neutralising them. So I just decided to go for it and it’s been almost six years since,” he said.

“These autonomous systems are only going to get better as technology develops and so will our capability. It’s extremely exciting for us to see where this is going.”

CAPTIONPetty Officer Edgar Dunsby, left, Able Seaman Grayden Ash and Leading Seaman Rodney Burnett recover the SeaFox expendable mine neutralisation system during the exercise. Photo by Leading Seaman Sittichai Sakonpoonpol.


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