January 4, 2006:
Israel is now operating UAVs for maritime patrol. The United States is also experimenting with this, as it is pretty clear that UAVs are ideal for this job. Maritime patrol consists of many hours in the air looking for whatever among not much. Boring as hell for humans, but ideal work for robots. While the U.S. is experimenting with the large, and expensive, Global Hawk, Israel (which really only has to worry about coastal patrols) is using a new version of the old Heron, called the Mahatz I. One thing that makes UAVs for maritime patrol possible, or at least practical, is cheaper and more capable sensors. In the case of the Mahatz I, the radar used (synthetic aperture radar), works with onboard software to provide automatic detection, classification and tracking of what is down there. Human operators ashore, or on a ship or in an aircraft, are alerted if they want to double check with video cameras on the UAV. Also carried are sensors that track the sea state (how choppy it is). For this kind of work, one of the most important things is reliability. While the Heron/ Mahatz I is a bit smaller (at 1.2 tons) than the Predator, it is still pretty expensive (over $5 million each.) You don't want to lose them over open water. What the Israeli navy will be doing is finding out just how reliable the Mahatz I is when doing a lot of maritime patrol. These UAVs can stay up for 50 hours at a time, although initially they will patrol for far less than that.