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There you go… the anti-piracy drone (update)

(credit: ONR/US Navy)

(BRUSSELS2) The hunt for Somali pirates and others gives wings to researchers. The American Navy has just announced that it has completed the first tests on a system on board an unmanned helicopter specially dedicated to this action. The algorithms have “ been successfully tested in land-based systems against ships at sea”. Full-scale trials will begin this summer off the coast of California, according to the US Naval Research Agency (*). Operational operation is not yet specified.

This MMMS – like Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker – will be able to distinguish small pirate ships from other vessels. It is equipped with a set of high-definition cameras, infrared and laser radar (LADAR) sensors, and automatic target recognition software, all placed on a robotic helicopter called Fire Scout. Using target recognition algorithms, Fire Scout will exploit the data collected in 3D by the LADAR, comparing the images collected to ship models or diagrams stored in the system's memory.

« 3D data gives you a head start on target identification ", explains Dean Cook, MMSS program researcher at the Naval Aviation Weapons Research Center (NAWCWD). “ Infrared and other cameras produce 2D photos, and objects can be difficult to identify automatically. With LADAR data, each pixel corresponds to a 3D point in space, the automatic target recognition algorithm makes it possible to calculate the dimensions of an object and compare them to those in a database. »

The objective of this machine: to relieve sailors of a tedious task. “ Sailors who control automatic surveillance systems can become overloaded with data, sifting through hours of continuous video in search of a single vessel. », Explains Ken Heeke, head of the naval warfare program at the Naval Research Agency (ONR). “ Automatic target recognition software gives Fire Scout the ability to distinguish target boats in congested coastal waters using LADAR, and it sends this information to human operators, who can then analyze these vessels with a 3D image »

* The software was integrated into a BRITE Star II turret by a team of researchers from NAWCWD, the University of Utah and Raytheon, FLIR Systems, BAE Systems, for flight testing aboard a helicopter “inhabited” test. The flight evaluation will be carried out against groups of approximately seven small boats in a maritime area reserved for the army.

(UPDATE) Let us point out that the 14 Fire Scout helicopters of the American Navy are today assigned to the ground after two accidents occurring in quick succession. The first took place off the coast of Africa on March 30, while an MQ-8B Fire Scout was operating off the USS Simpson, returning from a maritime surveillance mission. What was at issue was the UCARS system – a device necessary for landing. Despite several attempts, the helicopter had to land (ditch instead) some distance from the ship, where it was later recovered by the crew. Most recently, on April 6, a Fire Scout operating in northern Afghanistan spat on himself during a routine surveillance mission, for an “unknown” cause. “ System operational and performance procedures are subject to review” says a press release from the navy.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).