Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Minehunting Robots in the Middle East: IMCMEX 2014

This year's United States FIFTH Fleet's International Mine Countermeasures Exercise is well underway in Middle East waters, running until 13 November.  This third iteration of the exercise will be the largest ever, with 6,500 sailors from 44 nations and 38 ships participating.  As with past exercises, unmanned undersea vehicle detachments from several countries will show off their latest hardware in a realistic operating environment.  A total of 19 UUVs will take part in the waters of the Arabian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the northern Red Sea.  On the U.S. side, a focus will be placed on overcoming unmanned mine-countermeasures challenges including the transfer of sensor data at sea, reducing unmanned mission duration, and enhancing trust in autonomy. 

One of the new unmanned technologies to be demonstrated during the exercise is Northrop Grumman's Mine-Hunting Unit (MHU) .  The MHU unmanned surface vehicle tested its ability to deploy, tow, and retrieve the AQS-24A Mine Detecting Sensor in the Arabian Gulf earlier this year. Other unmanned vehicles participating in the IMCMEX are highlighted below.

KUWAIT (Oct. 29, 2014) Sailors assigned to Commander, Task Group(CTG) 56.1 inform members of the Kuwait Naval Force about the Kingfish Underwater Unmanned Vehicle and dive gear scheduled to be used during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX). (U.S. Navy Photo).
GULF OF AQABA, Jordan (Nov. 1, 2014) British Royal Navy Clearance Diver Leading Seaman David Taylor, left, and Clearance Diver Leading Seaman Jim Craker, both from Fleet Diving Unit 3 and assigned to Task Group 522.3, monitor the progress of the REMUS underwater sonar system while participating in International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX).  (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel Rolston/ Released)

MANAMA, Bahrain (November 3, 2014) A SeaFox mine neutralization vehicle is lowered into the Arabian Gulf from the British Royal Navy mine hunter HMS Atherstone (M38) - (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Mui/Released)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Private Security Drones for Anti-piracy Ops

Depiction of ATAC Anti-piracy UAV.
We've talked about privately-funded drones for maritime eco-activism and  humanitarian operations, so it's not surprising to see another naval mission where unmanned air vehicles have bled into the private sector.  Now, at least one private security company has offered UAV services as an anti-piracy solution.

Commercial shipping companies embraced private security as a means for protecting their ships after piracy in the Indian Ocean expanded significantly in the late 2000's, putting crews at risk and costing shippers billions in dollars in increased insurance premiums.

Incidents of Somali piracy have been virtually non-existent since 2012, primarily due to the hardening of commercial shipping targets by embarked security teams. Other counter-measures, such as fire hoses, razor wire, and hardened crew citadels were too easily defeated by pirates, but to date, no ship with an armed security team has been successfully hijacked. UAVs make a lot of sense to enhance the effectiveness of these teams. According to Advanced Tactics and Countermeasures Global, "acting as a forward scout and transmitting a live video feed of possible threats, the ATAC UAV simultaneously video documents each step from the identification to even the escalation of force, if necessary." ATAC's video depicts a quadcopter launching from a container ship, which would work in conjunction with their designated marksmen onboard the ships to deter and neutralize a pirate attack.  The ability of the UAV to get much closer to suspicious skiffs will also help security teams to reduce liability and mistaken identification of fishermen as pirates.
Skeldar UAV integration team is board Spanish Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel BAM Relámpago for anti-piracy operations in September 2013. (Photo: Armada Española)

If deployed, these private sector UAVs will join the ranks of the increasing number of naval drones flying anti-piracy patrols in the Indian ocean.  The Italian Air Force's 32nd Wing flies the MQ-1 Predator out of Djibouti for EUNavFor.  Among other navies operating ship-board UAVs against Somali piracy, Dutch and American ships have flown ScanEagle and the Spaniards the Skeldar. U.S. ships have also deployed the Fire Scout against pirates.