Israeli defence company Elbit Systems has launched a robot submarine that is able to autonomously search for naval mines and lurking submarines in order to protect the high seas. The Seagull is a 12m-long unmanned surface vehicle that can be remotely controlled from a base or a bigger manned naval warship to protect critical sea areas by patrolling for mines in the sea, as well as enemy submarines nearby.
The Seagull robot warship can remain at sea for more than 96 hours and it offers command, control, communications and intelligence, or 'C4I', capabilities to enable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance of the sea while enabling naval forces to reduce risk to their personnel in case a mine blows up or an enemy submarine attacks the Seagull.
Elbit Systems says that its robot warship is unique because it is able to search the entire water volume in a particular area, and the ship is programmed to search, detect, classify and identify the submarine or mine, and also to immediately neutralise mines so that the area becomes save for regular manned naval ships to pass through.
The warship drone also has in-built obstacle avoidance and an autonomous navigation system so it can be left alone to monitor the seas without a human in the control seat. It can also carry a variety of payloads to serve other purposes, such as research during hydrographical missions and surface force protection.
The US Navy has been investing millions of dollars into the Unmanned Influence Sweep System – a 40ft robot boat designed to be deployed in areas of the sea that are suspected to be minefields – with the intention of having a working prototype ready in 2016 for testing before full deployment in 2019.
While Elbit Systems doesn't specify exactly how the Seagull is able to detect naval mines, the US Navy says that the UISS works by dragging a special cable over patches of the oceans laden with mines so that the mines think there's a big ship above them and detonate. Ideally, the UISS boats would be built to withstand all the blasts and would keep going until all the mines are gone.