The growing demand for aerial unmanned maritime sensors

Operational requirements create markets. Sometimes these requirements are specific but sometimes they represent a worldwide trend, and it’s this second case we are going to discuss.

The demand for unmanned air systems (UAS) equipped for maritime missions has been growing steadily over the past five years.

This increasing demand stems from two main factors. First, countries that have not experienced wars for years are now finding themselves dealing with threats to their natural resources at sea. Second, these same countries and others are facing the problem of modern piracy.

Many of these countries have old fixed wing or rotary manned platforms, which can perform very limited maritime patrols and are inadequate to modern challenges.

Military experts see the potential in unmanned systems, which have immediate and obvious advantages: they do not need pilots, have extended endurance, and are equipped with advanced sensors. The combination is a winner, making some old manned maritime patrol aircraft look like museum pieces.

But there is another factor.  These “forward eyes” out at sea can offer onboard processing, data links and other assets to allow someone on the shore to launch preemptive military action – in most cases against an evasive, fast-moving target.

Israeli UAS manufacturers are hosting many delegations from countries with an urgent need for unmanned aerial maritime systems. And when the need is urgent, potential customers come to manufacturers that can offer mature systems. In Israel, these are Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Elbit systems.

In recent months, Vietnam has been evaluating some Israeli-developed aerial systems, including UAS.

Vietnam has been working on its own UAS, with two types – the AV.UAV.S1 and AV.UAV.S2 – developed by Vietnam’s Institute of Space Technology tested over the South China Sea in May. However, they are basic designs that cannot be put in operational service, which is why the Vietnamese ministry of defence has been looking at foreign UAS technology.

One system under consideration is the IAI Heron -1 in its maritime configuration. This is a mature UAS, currently operated by the Israeli air force (IAF) on behalf of the navy.

IAI reports that the Heron-1 equipped with Elta sea radar and E/O sensors can perform many missions better than manned aircraft. According to foreign sources, the IAF operates the Heron-1 UAS to protect Israeli offshore natural gas fields from possible attacks by the Hezbollah terror organisation operating from Lebanon.

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