NAVIES SURFACE INTEREST IN UNMANNED SYSTEMS
Asian Military Review|November/December 2020
Unmanned systems manufacturers are finding a responsive market for their products among navies in the Indo-Pacific region.
Tim Fish

The expanding use of unmanned systems by naval forces in the Asia-Pacific region is gathering pace. The ability of unmanned air (UAS), surface (USVs) and underwater (UUVs) or remotely operated or autonomous underwater vehicles (ROVs and AUVs) to provide a range of capabilities is being realised.

Some countries are investing heavily in unmanned platforms as a way of plugging a gap in Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR) or taking the man out of the minefield in mine countermeasure (MCM) operations. Meanwhile, others require unmanned systems to provide coverage over large expanses of maritime territory as a cheaper alternative to expensive manned assets.

The capability of the systems being acquired depends largely on available budgets. At one end of the scale Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have ordered the ScanEagle UAS from Boeing Insitu via a US Foreign Military Sale (FMS) request. Indonesia and the Philippines will get eight each, Malaysia 12, Vietnam six. It is unclear whether deliveries have been completed as Boeing and the US Navy refused to comment.

ScanEagle is a small fixed-wing UAS designed for long-endurance naval ISR operations with an assorted array of sensors and uses a catapult for launch and a pole for recovery. It has been in-service for some time with various militaries including the US Navy and is cheap, proven and a reliable option for smaller countries on limited budgets.

The Philippines Air Force is also acquiring nine Hermes 900 Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAS and three Hermes 450 tactical UAS from Israeli company IAI along with Skylark UAVs from Israel’s Elbit Systems. This will provide a much-needed boost in maritime ISR for the government in Manila.

Malaysia is also pushing ahead with plans to enhance its maritime security capabilities releasing a tender that includes three medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAS as well as long endurance unmanned aerial systems. This is part of Kuala Lumpur’s 12th Malaysian Plan that sets out procurement for 2021-25.

Another popular UAS with a wealth of naval experience is the S-100 Camcopter rotary UAS from Schiebel. The company signed a contract with the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) in November 2019 and stated that the S-100 would be deployed in Thailand and on RTN frigates “to deliver land and sea-based ISR operations. This is the first time the RTN will be using Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) UAS for maritime operations.”

Australia has requirements for naval UAS under SEA 129 Phase 5 Tactical UAS programme and both Schiebel and Insitu are involved in the trials phase providing the S-100 and ScanEagle respectively. The RAN has already acquired both platforms under the Navy Minor Project 1942 for its 822X Squadron that tests UAS. So far the squadron has completed trials from MV Sycamore the Anzac-class frigate HMAS Ballarat.

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