Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) is developing a new tool, Maritime Vessel Stopping Occlusion Technologies (MVSOT), to protect naval assets and sailors.

MVSOT is a non-lethal tool that can slow down or stop an oncoming target vessel.

The MVSOT team is focusing on the development of technologies that limit or remove the ability of a propulsion system to provide thrust to a boat but in a reversible manner.

NSWC PCD materials engineer Michelle Kincer said: “These technologies are persistent but reversible, allowing the warfighter increased standoff time and distance to de-escalate a potentially threatening situation.

“MVSOT solutions may provide the warfighter a new capability for their toolkit, which will allow them more time to ascertain the intent of an oncoming vessel.”

The MVSOT team and vendors are testing commercially available drogue lines for a solution. Drogue lines use rope with sea anchors to restrict forward movement of a target boat using drag forces.

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The team claimed that tests have revealed that these products can be repeatable and reliable, though are limited to certain types of vessels.

Under the MVSOT programme, new occlusion materials are being developed for an all-in-one solution, including synthetic hagfish slime and spider silk proteins, which provide advanced swelling, adhesive, and strength properties.

The materials are made from natural products, making them more environmentally compatible.

Kincer said: “One of the common methods of occlusion is to utilise material to wrap around the propeller blades, allowing the propeller to continue to rotate but disrupting the blades from pushing any water and, thus, propelling the boat forward.”

Recently, NSWC PCD, the University of Michigan, Utah State University, and Chapman University collaborated to produce synthetic hagfish slime intermediate filament proteins, and re-create the natural slime-like behaviour.

According to Kincer, hagfish secrete a slimy substance as a defence mechanism, and the substance expands by 10,000 times its original volume when it comes into contact with seawater.

Kincer added: “Looking at another material, spider silk rivals the strength of Kevlar and, on a weight comparison basis, steel. Our teammates at Utah State University have identified alternative uses of synthetic spider silk proteins, which have many properties that non-lethal vessel stopping may benefit from, including robust sponges and underwater adhesives.”