Surface Forces: USVs In the Persian Gulf


May 25, 2023: The U.S. Navy wants its Persian Gulf allies to cooperate in using more USVs (Unmanned Surface Vehicles) to increase security in the Gulf, especially the entrance (the Strait of Hormuz). There is certainly a need for more security because Iran recently used commandos landed by helicopter to seize two oil tankers and hold them hostage off the Iranian coast. The larcenous Iranians have also been known to hijack USVs. To better monitor Iranian mischief, the Americans have already deployed fifty USVs in the Gulf and want its Gulf allies to add more of their own. The American USVs are unarmed models like the DriX and Saildrone. Both have long endurance and lots of sensors.

The Americans have been developing new USVs and putting them to work in the Gulf for over a decade. For example, in 2009 the U.S. Navy developed a new USV from scratch as a USV, rather than the previous method that used existing small boats adapting to be operated under remote control or autonomously. An example of this was the flat bottomed AMN 1 which operates in shallow coastal waters and rivers. The navy developed navigation software for tricky situations, like using a laser based lidar being that could detect a bridge as something it can go under, and not an obstacle to be avoided or go around. AMN 1 was equipped with most of the equipment that current USVs have been successful with.

Over a decade ago USVs like the Israeli Protector and the American Spartan Scout were being used to patrol coastal and port areas like the Gaza coast, waters around the Lebanese border and the Iraqi coast. These USVs were basically 4-8 ton, 11 meter speed boats equipped with radar, GPS and vidcams, and armed with a remotely controlled 12.7mm machine-guns that had night vision and a laser rangefinder. There is also a public address system to give orders to boats that should not be there. These USVs were used for over a decade. They can be controlled from an operator ashore, or in a nearby ship, usually out to the horizon or at least 10-20 kilometers distant. They can stay out 8-48 hours at a time, depending on how much high speed movement is used. The one big shortcoming is that Protector is that they are built for speed, not rough seas. When the weather turns bad, and the waves get higher, they have to be brought in.

Spartan Scout was particularly useful when it got its first tryout in the Persian Gulf during late 2003. There were lots of small boats moving about, some of them up to no good. An Arab linguist on the mothership was able to interrogate suspicious boats the Spartan Scout ran down. The civilian sailors were somewhat taken aback when they were interrogated by this Arab speaking boat that had no one aboard. The Spartan Scout was developed primarily to work with some naval vessels that operated mainly along coasts, but soon every ship now wanted one or more of them, just for port security, and especially in areas like the Persian Gulf.

With all that in mind it seems like a good idea to use more USVs in the Gulf. Not all the Gulf Arabs are eager to do this and would rather invest in more manned warships. Iranians consider such warships targets for their attacks. The Americans point out that the USVs operate 24/7 and in all sorts of bad weather. They transmit video and radar data back to a land or sea based control center, providing wide coverage of who is doing what throughout the Gulf. The Iranians consider this harassment while the Arabs and their Western allies consider that reaction a sign that all those USVs are getting the job done.




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