The Piranha USV may be a visually striking vessel and well-suited for costal patrols, but at 16m in length, it's far too bulky to effectively protect harbour interiors and the close quarters between US warships. This 3m inflatable from Rafael Industries, however, is small and deadly enough to defend the tightest of portsmouths.
Dubbed the Protector, this Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) is designed for stealthy close-quarters patrolling and can be quickly re-equipped to handle a variety of missions, from basic harbour security to ISR collection to the defence of US warships or commercial traffic. The Protector features a 360-degree colour camera and an advanced radar system by default for use in automated detection, identification and targeting — either during the day or at night.
Depending on the mission, the Protector can be outfitted with a variety of subsystems. For example, during anti-terror missions (read: pirate-hunting), it will sport the Raphael Toplite EO sensor gimbal, which contains a third-generation FLIR, a CCD camera and eye-safe laser rangefinder, as well as the Mini-Typhoon (aka the Mk 49 by the US Navy) stabilised weapons platform, a highly accurate remote-controlled turret capable of operating numerous small calibre weapons. These small-calibre weapons can include anything from .50-calibre machine guns to surface-to-surface missile batteries firing Raphael's 4km-range Spike missiles.
The US Navy has spent the last five years or so modifying, integrating and tweaking the Raphael platform into a "Precision Engagement Module", which it launched for live fire tests last week. Over the course of three days, the USV PEM launched a series of six Spikes from the platform — the first time that the Navy has successfully fired missiles from a USV.
The USV PEM still has a few years of further testing in store before the Navy even decides to add it to its growing flotilla of unmanned war machines, but it could quickly find use in "a number of applications including harbour security, defensive operations against fast attach craft and swam scenarios, which is of primary concern for the navy," Mark Moses, the US Navy's program manager for the armed drone boat project, explained to Danger Room. "However, it is probably most effective when targets try and hide among commercial vessels — for example, congested waterways." Hopefully, when the shit hits the fan in the Strait of Hormuz, we won't have to risk sailors lives to keep it open. [NavSea - Wired - Raphael 1, 2, 3, 4]
Image: Raphael Defense Industries