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Fighting Pirates with USVs
by Staff Writers
Amsterdam, Netherlands (SPX) Nov 21, 2011

USV offer a good tool to increase intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) coverage when launched from a host naval ship. Naval professionals are becoming increasingly comfortable with the use of unmanned maritime vehicles.

Piracy exists since men built boats. It will probably never cease since the seas are vast, inhospitable at times and a lonely ship apparently makes quite a tempting target. Modern maritime piracy has evolved to the point that it seriously affects lives and the global economy.

Many military vessels daily patrol the areas that are prone to attacks sea, especially the Gulf of Aden, a major trade route for Asian goods and Middle Eastern oil vessels.

Modern maritime pirates have extended their range of attacks and improved their attack tactics. Destroyers and frigates are effective but too expensive to fight off a few men in flip-flops, a ladder, and rocket propelled grenades. They also cannot possibly cover the large expense of the growing pirates' territory.

UAVs are just starting to be used to spot, identify, scare pirates away, and prevent hostage situations. But what about USVs, the "latest" type of unmanned system? They could be launched from any yacht, ram into the assailing pirates' skiff, or be launched from a tanker to conduct armed operations against the pirates five miles away from the tanker.

They can, but they won't.

First, the international maritime laws and rules of engagement pose serious issues on the control, circumstances and use of weapons at sea. Second, weapons and inflammables don't get along well. Third, the launch and recovery of the USV can be problematic. Fourth, the expertise required to conduct a USV operation is out of reach for most commercial seafarers, and poses issues of liability, costs, training, etc.

So what is left?

USV offer a good tool to increase intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) coverage when launched from a host naval ship. Naval professionals are becoming increasingly comfortable with the use of unmanned maritime vehicles.

A host of non-lethal options are likely to be used until lethal weapons are an absolute necessity. The USV can be used to patrol an area on almost-persistent basis, enabling it to provide a quick response to an alert, hopefully before the pirates' boarding.

Plus, the electronic data a USV can collect while on patrol can be of great help in the preparation and execution of a manned intervention at sea - and be later use for litigation. In face of the growing violence of the Eastern African pirates, it is reasonable to assume that they will gradually become more adept at carrying out night raids. USVs can and should be there to help mitigate such threats.

While USVs are not a panacea to modern piracy, they will gradually become part of the overall response to modern maritime piracy - in both defensive and offensive capacities.

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21st Century Pirates

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