Via: New York Times:
In recent years, maritime shipping companies, private security firms and navies around the globe have pondered the problem of high-seas piracy off Africa’s east coast, where more than 150 merchant ships have been attacked by small craft in 2009 alone. What to do? How to thwart a menace that can resemble a fishing boat? And across an area so vast?
It was inevitable that weapons manufacturers and dealers would weigh in. Now one has. Imagine an aquatic drone, an unmanned boat that could patrol the waters off eastern Africa and allow threats to be assessed and engaged by remote control.
This is an idea proposed by Timothy P. Sheridan, an American arms dealer who has been providing equipment to the Pentagon for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. (Sheridan, among other things, has arranged the shipment of tens of thousands of small arms for distribution to Iraqi security forces.)
His latest venture is called Maritime Defense Systems International, LLC., which offers an automated counterpiracy system, as he calls it, that could be outfitted to a vessel and set loose on patrol. The system contains a forward-looking infrared radar for surveillance and target detection, an automated machine gun on a rotating mount and a satellite video uplink that would let a remote operator run the craft from on shore or a work station on a distant ship.
Think, Roboboat. Now think Roboboat run by a trained naval officer, much as Air Force pilots fly Predator and Reaper drones.
In the next several weeks, Sheridan will be testing a preliminary version, which combines several off-the-shelf products, on a GB-12 patrol craft from Radix Marine, a boat manufacturer in Yakima, Wash. The first tests will be on manned vessels, with the system operated by joystick by the crew from within.
If the tests prove successful and market interest develops, Sheridan hopes to sell a fully remote system. The idea, he says, could solve one of the confounding problems with countering piracy — the questions of who has weapons, and what determines their rules of engagement. Few people advocate arming crews, which poses many risks: tactical, legal and potentially with liability.
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