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Thursday, December 20, 2007

How Will the Navy's USV Program Impact the Future of the Marine Industry?

This is a Protector series USV (Unmanned Surface Vessel) designed by the Rafael Armament Development Authority. It is only one of many surface vessels designed and built for unmanned and remote operator missions. Combined with a multi-integrated navigation and weapons delivery package and satellite communications there's no reason to think a helmsman can't be sitting in a high tech command center at the Pentagon while sending this, or something 100 times larger, into combat halfway around the world. In fact, this particular series has already seen action in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean.

Industry and military experts have long been anticipating the successful implementation of remote-operated unmanned service vehicles to broader areas of the marine environment. We already have them in use as anti-terror and surveillance devices, weapons delivery systems and research and survey robotics. I can remember reading an article in Popular Mechanics Magazine when I was a kid about unmanned tankers crossing the oceans to deliver their product. Back then, it was the stuff of science fiction, as nobody in their right mind would believe the on-site decision-making ability of a real captain and crew could be systematically bypassed by wires, servos and radio waves.

That was then, 30-plus years ago, and this is now.

With powerful high speed satellite communications, AIS and ARPA capable radars, precision GPS tracking and a full-functioning remote helm, anything is possible. I'm sure, with today's technology, a captain can deliver an 800' tanker from Dubai to New Jersey -- provided nothing goes wrong along the way.

I suspect we're safe, for awhile. Until air-rescue reaches a point where a crew can be delivered to an unmanned ocean going vessel in time of need and at supersonic speeds, the concept of large scale unmanned transport across the oceans will remain on the drawing board. In the meantime, USVs, and their underwater cousins UUVs, will be limited to relatively small, high speed attack and surveillance operations.

CRS USV Report to Congress.


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