The Navy’s new Middle East-based unmanned integration task force completed its first exercise with U.S. and Bahrain naval forces this week.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) completed exercise New Horizon on Oct. 26, the initial at-sea evolution of the new Task Force 59. During the two-day exercise, Task Force 59 integrated and evaluated the Martac Systems MANTAS T-12 unmanned surface vessels (USVs) operating alongside manned U.S. patrol craft and Bahrain Defense Force maritime forces.

Task Force 59 was initially stood up in September to help bolster testing and integrate unmanned systems for use with the Navy. NAVCENT and U.S. 5th Fleet command Vice Adm. Brad Cooper told reporters last month they are doing this work to help develop and integrate unmanned systems and artificial intelligence to enhance maritime domain awareness and increase deterrence forces. He also noted they would be taking unmanned systems of all kind from across the Navy (Defense Daily, Sept. 10).

At the time, commodore of the task force, Capt. Michael Brasseur, said the goal of the work is to expand the operational use of unmanned systems in the region and experiment with concepts of operations.

Officials said Task Force 59 aims to conduct a series of small experiments and operations leading to the larger IMX 22 exercise planned for early 2022, the 5th Fleet’s largest exercise, with international participation.

In September, the Navy said it was partnering with Bahrain on task force exercises to strengthen the countries’ partnership and expand maritime domain awareness (Defense Daily, Sept. 24).

The service now said the New Horizon exercise was the first time NAVCENT integrated USVs with manned assets at sea in the 5th Fleet area of operations as well as alongside partner country forces.

In the first phase of New Horizon on Oct. 20, operators controlled the MANTAS T-12s aboard patrol coastal ship USS Firebolt (PC-10) while the vessels performed high-speed maneuvers in formation. The last phase was on Oct. 26 and combined a larger force of manned and unmanned maritime and aerial forces from NAVCENT, the Royal Bahrain Naval Force (RBNF) and Bahrain Coast Guard.

Additional participants included the Island-class Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Maui (WPB-1304), an SH-60S helicopter, a V-BAT unmanned aerial vehicle and various RBNF patrol craft.

The Navy said U.S. and Bahraini forces practiced operating their vessels in formation to improve mutual understanding and interoperability.

Both U.S. and Bahraini forces practiced operating the vessels in formation to strengthen mutual understanding and interoperability.

“Working with our regional partners on unmanned systems integration is crucial to enhancing collective maritime domain awareness. Bahrain, as our first regional partner to collaborate with Task Force 59 during an at-sea exercise, demonstrates the strengthening of our strategic relationship,” Cooper said in a statement.

“This is a significant milestone for our new task force as we accelerate the integration of unmanned systems and artificial intelligence into complex, cross-domain operations at sea. Real-world evaluation is essential,”  Brasseur added.

The 5th Fleet area of operations includes the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean.