The Navy has not said what sensors or other systems are on the Explorer which is now participating in the Digital Horizon demonstration. The Saildrone website states that electro-optical cameras with some degree of automatic target detection enabled by machine learning, as well as various oceanographic sensors, are available for this design, along with radars and other capabilities. found on its biggest offers.
A group of Saildrones with various full motion video cameras, including types capable of night vision or thermal imaging, networked and with links to other ships and command centers ashore, could be of use to the Marine to detect and track threats or potential threats, as well as simply improve persistent overall situational awareness in a specific area. Automated target recognition and other capabilities that use AI or machine learning algorithms could add to their utility.
These drone sailboats would also be able to provide this type of capability without the need to deploy a significant number of more traditional assets or personnel or the costs associated with that. Currently, the Navy has a limited capacity to conduct more persistent small craft operations, including surveillance and presence missions, in larger areas. The service also plans to phase out its fleets of Mk VI and Cyclone class patrol vessels entirely, supplanting them, at least in part, with examples of its two subclasses of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). However, LCSs cost tens of millions of dollars to operate and maintain each year. In 2018, Bloomberg reported that Saildrone’s products could be exploited for as little as $ 2,500 per day, or $ 30,000 per year, for scientific purposes.
With that in mind, Navy Saildrone Explorer could be a valuable addition to the service’s capabilities in the Gulf of Aqaba, which touches Israel to the north and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to the west, as well as Jordan to the east. It is an important link to the Red Sea for Israel and Jordan, for both naval operations and commercial navigation, with the port of Aqaba being the port of the latter country. only large port facility.
It’s also a potential choke point, something that could be of concern as various types of threats in and around the Red Sea came from Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen, as well as Iran itself, continue to grow. The Houthis have already demonstrated their ability to use explosive-laden unmanned boats, as well as suicide drones, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles, and naval mines, to threaten warships, commercial vessels, and aircraft. coastal infrastructure, among other targets, in and around neighboring Saudi Arabia. There have been clear indications that the Houthis, as well as the Iranian forces themselves, could work to extend the reach of these threats to the north, including bringing them within range of southern Israel.
Of course, additional knowledge of the lingering maritime situation could be useful elsewhere in the Middle East, beyond the Gulf of Aqaba. This includes operations in the Bab Al Mandeb Strait, at the southern end of the Red Sea, and the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman. These are two other highly strategic bottlenecks in the region where Iran and its proxies present real threats.
Beyond that, it would seem very likely that the outcome of the Digital Horizon demonstration could have implications for how the Navy might deploy these drone sailboats elsewhere in the world. If testing in the Gulf of Aqaba turns out to be promising, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the service looking into using Saildrone Explorers for similar missions across large swathes of the Pacific, among other things.
It is almost certain that the activities of Task Force 59 in the Middle East will have an impact on the service’s larger unmanned plans. This operational test of the Saildrone Explorer is just one example of the work already accomplished by the unit since its activation just three months ago. He finished his first unmanned integration exercise in the Persian Gulf in October. This event saw a Maritime Tactical Systems, Inc., (MARTAC) MANTAS T12 an unmanned surface vessel works with Navy and Coast Guard patrol vessels, as well as an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter and V-Bat drone. Bahraini army forces also participated in the exercise, dubbed New Horizon.