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UAVs Over the Maritime Horizon

  • Jr Ng
  • July, 2020
  • 113
  • Anti-Submarine Warfare

Maritime patrolling with UAVs has becoming the norm, allowing manned missions to be dedicated to more mission specific tasks

Airborne maritime operations such as anti-submarine warfare (ASW), intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and patrol missions have typically been the province of multi-engine aircraft specifically designed for extended overwater operations or commercial platforms modified for such operations.

However, the means of acquiring and maintaining adequate fleets of such manned platforms remain beyond what some Asia Pacific countries - including maritime states with large economic exclusive zones (EEZs) and contiguous waters to secure - can field by their respective air and naval forces and maritime security agencies.

As a result, there is a growing requirement for affordable alternatives to conventional ISR and maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) which the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry hopes to address with medium- and high-altitude, long endurance (MALE and HALE) platforms with their long range and loiter capabilities as well as their inherent to carry multiple sensor payloads simultaneously.

At the other end of the spectrum are smaller fixed-wing and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAVs, which are also gaining favour as shipborne ISR assets that can be readily deployed to extend a surface vessel’s detection range.

MALE UAVs

Israel’s Elbit Systems has developed a maritime patrol mission suite for its Hermes 900 UAV, which can comprise a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) such as Leonardo’s Gabianno T200 X-band radar, a stabilised electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) turret and electronic surveillance systems.

According to Elbit’s specifications, the Hermes 900 has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of up to 2,600lb (1,180kg) and can carry 660lb (300kg) of mission equipment. This includes up to 550lb (250kg) of internal stores in its 2.5m-long payload bay, which the company believes to be among the largest available for its class.

Elbit Systems has also stated that its Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS) can simultaneously control two Hermes 900 UAVs to maximise asset utilisation and manpower, while reducing overall operating costs.

The Hermes 900 has met with a recent string of successes in Europe. For instance, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has been used to provide maritime patrol services to on a daily rotation since April 2019, with Iceland being the first country to take advantage of this service. According to Elbit Systems, the Icelandic maritime authorities are using the eastern Egilsstaðir airport from which the UAV - modified to withstand the North Atlantic Ocean’s strong winds and icy conditions - can cover over half of the country’s EEZ.

The Hermes 900 has also found regional traction with at least two of the nine air vehicles - ordered under a $153 million package that includes other UAVs such as the Hermes 450 and Skylark - already delivered and undergoing local testing and integration by the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told media that the Hermes 450 and Hermes 900 UAVs are expected to be operated from airbases in Palawan province facing the South China Sea as well as in the southern province of Mindanao.

More recently, Elbit Systems announced in February that it has been contracted by the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to supply several UAV’s including the Hermes 900 to explore the feasibility of supporting search and rescue (SAR) operations. The MCA will commence evaluations from West Wales airport within 2020, while the maritime missions will be conducted within the Aberporth military training area.

One of the main objectives, according to MCA officials, will be to validate the effectiveness and safety of UAVs and pave the way for Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) permission to operate these systems in unrestricted airspace.

Heron Fishes for Subs

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has introduced a new ASW capability to its Heron MALE UAV family. The company said it has developed a new sonobuoy dispensing system (SDS) and a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) which enable air vehicle to detect and track submarines in both shallow and deep waters.

These new payloads complement the Heron’s primary surveillance sensor, the IAI ELTA E/LM-2022U maritime radar which is lighter and more compact version of the E/LM-2022 system already deployed aboard MPAs around the world. According to IAI, the E/LM-2022U can cover up to 150 nautical miles (nm) of water from a cruising altitude of 20,000 feet (6,100m)

“The use of UAV-mounted ASW capabilities offers significant advantages over conventional manned ai...

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