REPMUS uncrewed systems exercise grows in size and international standing

‘REPMUS’ is part of a paired exercise activity, with ‘Dynamic Messenger’, in which international navies come together to test maritime uncrewed systems in real-world operational environments. An uncrewed surface vessel is pictured. (NATO MARCOM)

As it adapts to continue progressing against emerging naval challenges, the Portuguese Navy-led ‘REPMUS’ Maritime Uncrewed Systems (MUS) exercise has grown in multinational partnership to the point that it is now an international activity, the Portuguese Navy’s Chief of Staff said, during keynote speeches at the exercise’s Distinguished Visitors’ Day on 22 September.

“‘REPMUS’ … has been growing in recent years in size, complexity, and achievement, to the point that it has become an international ‘REPMUS’,” said Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo. “The results cannot only be attributed to the Portuguese Navy but to … all our partners.”

“‘REPMUS’ is no longer Portuguese: it belongs to all of us,” he added.

While ‘REPMUS’ (‘Robotic Experimentation and Prototyping augmented by Maritime Unmanned Systems’) was established and is led by the Portuguese Navy, its size and scope has grown over time. First, key NATO research and development organisations – namely, the Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation, and the Maritime Unmanned Systems Initiative – came on board (in 2012 and 2019, respectively). Second, over the last five years, international participation in the event has expanded five times over, from five countries participating in 2018 to more than 25 in 2023.

As a core exercise for developing MUS technologies, operational tactics, and command and control, ‘REPMUS’ was the natural partner for NATO’s dedicated MUS operational experimentation exercise ‘Dynamic Messenger’. Run by NATO Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM), ‘Dynamic Messenger’ took place for the first time in 2022; both ‘Messenger’ exercises, in 2022 and 2023, ran in tandem with ‘REPMUS’ each September.

For ‘REPMUS 2023’, international participation included the provision of more than 70 separate MUS systems, with over 35 uncrewed underwater vehicles present.

The exercise’s growth is not just in numbers, but in output. “We are extending the frontiers of our knowledge, challenging old concepts, testing new ideas,” said Adm Melo. “In ‘REPMUS’, we join academics with industry and the military in a melting pot of innovation and creativity.” Aiming to use the exercise to continue testing new ideas and fast-tracking technology innovation into experimentation, “What we are doing will have a huge impact in future concepts, operations, technologies, and new systems,” he added.

Moving forward, the event’s international impetus will continue, Adm Melo explained. For example, the aims for ‘REPMUS 2024’ will be shaped by a development board, participation in which will be open to all exercise stakeholders.

Moreover, Adm Melo said that his future vision is for ‘REPMUS’ to move on from being simply an annual event to being a framework for continuous work throughout the year.

by Dr Lee Willett, Troia, Portugal