The US Navy is interested in using micro air vehicles (MAV) to protect warships from strikes by fast attack craft and suicide boat strikes.

Dr Tony Tether, director of the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), says possible roles are being discussed with the USN, focusing on the Aerovironment Wasp unmanned air vehicle.

Fast attack craft re-emerged as a potential threat to coalition warships during Operation Iraqi Freedom earlier this year, when the destroyer USS Cole was badly damaged by a suicide raider while anchored off Aden, Yemen, in October 2000.

Speaking at the Australian Army's annual Land Warfare Conference in Adelaide on 28 October, Dr Tether said the navy faces the problem of "these little boats coming at them. They can blow them out of the water, but they really don't know if they should until they get too close". He says the speed of the smaller craft means that without early engagement, "the big ship loses".

An MAV-based system would allow the warship crew to "take a look at the boat coming and try to determine whether or not they need to interdict it".

Tether says the small size of the MAV and its low-noise profile would allow relatively stealthy approaches to targets of interest. He says while MAVs are limited in terms of payload options, the sensors are expected to be capable enough "to see what is going on".

The Wasp was developed as part of DARPA's Synthetic Multifunctional Materials programme with the Naval Research Laboratory assisting with wing structure design and co-ordination of the prototype development programme. The MAV has a 330mm (13in) wingspan. In October 2002 a Wasp prototype set a new endurance record for MAVs of 1h 47min.

Source: Flight International