Surface Forces: Robots Armed With Torpedoes


July 23, 2016: Four months after revealing its existence, Israel announced that its new Seagull USV (unmanned surface vessel) had successfully test fired its wire guided torpedoes for the first time. Other revelations include stealthiness for the UAVs and software that makes possible a lot of autonomous activity. Seagull is stealthy in part because it is small and low to the water, making it difficult to detect with radar or sonar.

No additional details on the new torpedoes, which appear to be smaller than the usual lightweight ASW (anti-submarine warfare) torpedoes carried by helicopters and many warships. These typically weight about 300 kg (660 pounds) and have a range of about ten kilometers. None are wire guided as they are built for launch from aircraft (usually helicopters). The Seagull torpedo uses a new approach and for good reason the Israelis are not disclosing many details yet. Israel did say that Seagull will be used to protect the new natural gas fields off the Israeli coast. Iran and several Islamic terrorist organizations have said they would go after these offshore facilities but Seagull is mainly for handling hostile subs and, quite possibly, hostile underwater swimmers (using scuba gear). .

Seagull actually consists of two USVs and a base station (on land or a manned ship) for the handful of people needed to operate Seagull. One of the Seagull USVs carries several types of sensors (sonars and others) while the other UAV carries a minisub (for getting a closer look at bottom mines) and wire guided torpedoes (for destroying subs, bottom mines or whatever). Each USV is 12 meters (39 feet) long, has a top speed of 57 kilometers an hour, a payload of 2.5 tons and can stay at sea for up to four days at a time. The Seagull USVs can operate up to a hundred kilometers from its base station. Each Seagull system will cost about $30 million but can do the work of a frigate or corvette costing ten times as much.

Israel has a lot of experience with USVs so the appearance of Seagull should come as no surprise. For example in 2013 an Israeli firm presented a larger (11 meter/34 foot) version of their original nine meter Protector USV. This new one is armed with a water cannon and Spike missiles. The new Protector was more stable in rough seas than the earlier model and can stay out for over 12 hours at a time. The older version of Protector is already being used to guard the offshore gas fields.

The original Protector USV is a four ton, 9 meter (30 foot) long speedboat that can move at up to 72 kilometers an hour and is armed with a remote control 12.7mm machine-gun (using night vision and a laser rangefinder). Both versions of Protector are equipped with radar, GPS, and vidcams, as well as a public address system, to give orders to boats that should not be there.

Protector has been used for the last decade in places like the Israeli coast, the Persian Gulf, and Singapore for port and coast patrol. Protector can be controlled from an operator ashore or in a nearby ship, usually out to the horizon or at least 10-20 kilometers distant. The original Protector can stay out eight hours at a time. The one big shortcoming is that Protector is built for speed, not rough seas. So when the weather turns bad, and the waves get higher, Protector has to be brought in. Protector is used to patrol the Gaza coast and the waters around the Lebanese border. These USVs were also used off Gaza during the 2009 and 2012 wars with Hamas.




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