Surface Forces: Droids Do The Dirty Work Cheap

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August 9, 2017: In mid-2017 an Israeli firm demonstrated its new Seagull USV (unmanned surface vessel) system carrying out MCM (mine countermeasures) missions (finding and destroying bottom mines) off the Belgium coast in rough weather. Seagull is designed to operate in Sea State 5 (six meter waves and 38 kilometer an hour winds) conditions and survive Sea State 7 (nine meter waves and 59 kilometers an hour winds).

Each Seagull system consists of two Seagulls and a base station (on land or a manned ship) for the three people needed to operate Seagull and its equipment (sensors and weapons). One Seagull carries several types of sensors (sonars and others) while the other Seagull carries a minisub (for getting a closer look at bottom mines) and wire guided torpedoes (for destroying subs or bottom mines). Seagull Each USV is 12 meters (39 feet) long, has a top speed of 57 kilometers an hour, a payload of 2.5 tons and can stay at sea for up to four days at a time. The Seagull USVs can operate up to a hundred kilometers from its base station. Each Seagull system will cost about $30 million but can do the work of a manned MCM (mine countermeasures) costing three times as much or, when it comes to ASW (anti-submarine warfare) operations, frigate or corvette costing ten times as much. Seagull is a lot cheaper to maintain and operate and puts far fewer personnel at risk.

Seagull is not a radical new concept but rather the result of decades of unmanned aerial, land and naval vehicle development. The Israelis have been in the lead in most categories. For example in 2013 an Israeli firm presented a larger (11 meter/34 foot) version of their original nine meter Protector USV. This one was armed with a water cannon and Spike missiles. The 2013 model was more stable in rough seas and can stay out for over 12 hours at a time.

The original Protector USV was a four ton, 9 meter (30 foot) long speedboat that could move at up to 72 kilometers an hour and was armed with a remote control 12.7mm machine-gun (using night vision and a laser rangefinder). Both versions of Protector are equipped with radar, GPS, and vidcams, as well as a public address system, to give orders to boats that should not be there.

Protector has been used since 2005 in places like the Israeli coast, the Persian Gulf, and Singapore for port and coast patrol. Protector can be controlled from an operator ashore or in a nearby ship, usually out to the horizon or at least 10-20 kilometers distant. The original Protector could stay out eight hours at a time. The one big shortcoming was that Protector being built for speed, not rough seas. So when the weather turns bad, and the waves get higher, Protector has to be brought in. Protector is used to patrol the Gaza coast and the waters around the Lebanese border. These USVs were also used off Gaza during the 2009 and 2012 wars with Hamas.

Seagull is needed to help guard the new Israeli offshore natural gas fields and the pipelines moving the gas to shore. Most of these natural gas operations are near the maritime border with Lebanon. Seagull is being offered to trusted allies who need a less expensive way to deal with MCM and ASW operations. NATO nations, especially those with coasts bordering the North Sea and Baltic Sea are particularly concerned about MCM and ASW capabilities now that Russia has become more aggressive.

Israeli firms have been the leading developers of land and aerial unmanned vehicles and the American Predator was based on Israeli designs.

 

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