Meet the newest member of Israel's Navy: The Protector Unmanned Surface Vehicle, which also joins the pioneering generation of unmanned surface vessels. While drones have become an inseparable part of aerial warfare, at sea the revolution is still in its infancy.
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The Protector is equipped with a weapons system, as well as a system that enables real-time surveillance day and night. It can be operated remotely from a control room on dry land and can carry out security operations at sea without endangering human lives.
Like other unmanned vehicles introduced to the Israel Defense Forces, the Protector was developed by an Israeli defense technology company (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems), and modified to reflect feedback from the military. The collaboration between Rafael and the navy began in 2008; in December 2008 the first Protectors were purchased for several million shekels per unit. The Protector started operational use a year ago, following an absorption period, a series of experiments and a round of improvements.
"We took the vessels in order to carry out surgical operations that endanger soldiers," says Capt. M, a commander of a naval unit that responsible for operating Protector. "The Protector solves tasks, prevents risks to human life and can get relatively close to the coastline and to dangerous weapons – it is nearly invisible."
The Protector, which can stay at sea for a few days, was first used against threats on the southern coastal strip under IDF supervision and operated from the base in Ashdod. Those operating it say it has high maneuverability for a surface vessel, and can perform a sharp 90 degree turn on the spot, for example.
The Protector is 9.1 meters long and 3.2 meters wide. It can reach a speed of 30 knots (around 55 kilometers per hour) and is equipped with a GPS system and electrical compasses as well as a speaker system for public announcements.
The Protector is controlled by two parallel channels. One controls its surveillance and weapon systems and the second controls its cruising and navigation systems. Since it is entirely remotely controlled, it can obtain a 360 degree picture around the vessel. It also has a stabilized weapons system that can compensate for the movement of the waves. One of the most impressive capabilities of the system is its ability to lock onto a target and track its movements at sea in real time. Communication with the Protector, and particularly with its weapons system, is by radio waves.
The navy believes that eventually, more unmanned vehicles will replace soldiers during missions.