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Unmanned Pirate-Hunting Boats For The Future

By doina — last modified Dec 31, 2007 10:52 AM

Published: 2007-12-31 10:52:02
Topics: Piracy & Security

For some years now, law enforcement agencies have proposed robotic boats, or unmanned surface vessels (USVs), as a way to help deal with 21st-Century pirates that target mostly commercial shipping, above all in the waters off Somalia. The US Navy has tested at least two small, armed USV demonstrators designed to patrol harbors and defend vessels. And both the Navy and the Coast Guard have expressed interest in the Protector, a 30-ft.-long USV which comes mounted with a machine gun and could be retrofitted for commercial use.

The Protector wasn't originally intended for anti-piracy operations but could be modified for commercial use. Instead of being deployed by a warship to intercept and possibly fire on an incoming vessel, a non-lethal variant of the Protector could be used to simply investigate a potential threat.

A favorite tactic of modern-day pirates is to put out a distress call, then ambush any ships that respond. The unmanned Protector could be remote-operated from around 10 miles away, with enough on-board sensors, speakers and microphones to make contact with a vessel before it's too late.

This year another USV was unveiled, the 21-ft.-long Interceptor that emphasizes reconnaissance over firepower. The Interceptor can travel at up to 55 mph, and is designed to be piloted both remotely and autonomously. While the Interceptor could be fitted with a water cannon or other non-lethal offensive system, its primary mission is to serve as a sentry.

Although the Protector is currently deployed by the Israeli and Singaporean Navies, the U.S. Navy has yet to field a full-production USV, much less a pirate-hunting one. But if piracy continues to escalate around the world, it may only a matter of time before the private sector invests in a few unmanned boats to act as scouts.

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