The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is constructing a one-of-a-kind specialty barge for use on the Mississippi River – ARMOR 1. The purpose ARMOR 1 is to armor the banks of the river with articulated concrete mattress (ACM) to protect the navigation channels and reinforce the levees.
Currently, USACE accomplishes this armoring mission with the Mat Sinking Unit (MSU) which was built in 1948 and is long past due a replacement and modernization. The MSU is headquartered at the USACE Harbor in Vicksburg, Mississippi. However, it protects the river channel from Cairo, Illinois to Head of Passes, South of New Orleans, encompassing 953 river miles.
Since the initiation of the Mississippi River & Tributaries (MR&T) project, the nation has contributed $15.5 billion toward project planning, construction, operation, and maintenance of the river system. One element of the MR&T project is revetment, which is the armoring of river banks with ACM to maintain a desired channel alignment by preventing channel migration through bank erosion. The Channel Improvement Revetment System is a ‘hidden infrastructure’ that is protecting 1000’s of miles of levees and channel alignment. The current method of armoring the Mississippi River channel from erosion is the MSU.
ARMOR 1 was designed and is being built by a team of experts in both Marine design and Robotics. The National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC), located in Pittsburgh, PA, along with Bristol Harbor Group, Bristol, Rhode Island, worked together on the robotics and barge design to create ARMOR 1. The USACE Marine Design Center (MDC) is the Corps center of expertise for naval architecture, marine engineering and floating plant. They are the contracting mechanism to design, prototype and construct ARMOR 1 while providing technical expertise during construction. Thoma-Sea Shipbuilding in Houma, LA is building the marine portion of ARMOR 1 and SIA Solutions will install the robotics.
ARMOR 1 was designed and extensively tested with robotic prototypes. Successful prototype testing was complete in 2020 at NREC. Construction is scheduled over a 3-year period culminating with a series of tests for ARMOR 1, including a full trial test on the Mississippi river, scheduled in 2023. ARMOR 1 will be in full operation in the fall of 2023.
ARMOR 1 design is not focused solely on robotics but is driven along three overarching areas: Safety, Reliability, and Efficiency. Safety – marine safety design is in accordance with the American Bureau of Shipping Group (ABSG) standards. The ABSG standards are used for both commercial and governmental marine vessels to ensure these vessels are in compliance with all modern design specifications. Reliability – the current mat sinking has been in operation since 1948 and is both difficult and expensive to maintain. Many of the MSU components are no longer manufactured and have to be either machined on site or specially ordered, which often results in repair delays. Modern common components, modern winching systems, and marine hull design are among the many features that will dramatically increase reliability. Efficiency – ARMOR 1 will be built to double the production rate, use fuel more efficiently and be easier to move from place to place. Increased efficiency also reduces impact to our industry partners who rely on an open waterway with less restrictions for the commercial movement of goods.
The design process for ARMOR 1 consists of extensive prototyping and testing to ensure that all of the systems work both individually and collectively. This very deliberate process helps ensure that the best design available is used for the final construction plans. Part of the testing process is to source parts and components that are readily available and are checked for best cost and durability. Prototype robotic components are run through a series of tests at the National Robotics and Engineering Center (NREC) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. These tests result in the robotics being disassembled, redesigned and improved. This iterative method is the best approach to ensure a complete design that fully meets the needs of the Corps. Improved robotic systems will allow ARMOR 1 to meet full production rate of 4,000 ACM squares a day, more than doubling current output. ARMOR 1 will allow reliable armoring of the Mississippi River Channel for the 50 years to protect some of our most important Nation’s waterway infrastructure.