Who says military drones only belong in the air? The Navy has gotten into the game, test firing missiles from a 36-foot inflatable hulled, remote-controlled boat. Six anti-armor missiles successfully struck floating targets over two miles away, fired by personnel onshore at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
While the Navy is no stranger to unmanned vessels used for such things as spying and mine clearance, this marks the first time that a robotic surface vessel has been armed for combat purposes. It fulfills a goal the Navy had outlined in 2007.
Clearly they means business. The boat, which has been in development the past few years at a Navy base in Newport, Rhode Island has been outfit with a dual pod Spike missile launcher and Mk-49 mounting system from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. Completely automated, the Navy calls the new weapons system a "Precision Engagement Module."
The remote controlled boat is perfect for jobs that bigger Naval vessels like frigates or destroyers couldn't do. The Precision Engagement Module could be a defensive weapon protecting coastlines and harbors from fast attack vessels. Or, as Mark Moses, the Navy's program manager for the armed drone boat project told Wired's Danger Room:
"… it is probably most effective when targets try and hide among commercial vessels — for example, congested waterways."
This could help combat threats from Somali pirates to the speedy gunships patrolling in Iranian waters and the Middle East. Conceivably the Precision Engagement Module could also protect against heavily armed suicide vessels such as the one that hit the U.S.S. Cole in October, 2000 when the Navy's ship was refueling at a Yemeni port.
With the Precision Engagement Module, this kind of armed combat could take place while the sailors controlling it are out of harms way in the same way armed airborne drones have protected pilots.
The Module was tested over three days using a long-range variant of the Spike 30-pound missile. In the video shown below there are six test firings — all successful though the camera angle makes it difficult to see.
The advanced weapon is still in development and the Navy hasn't confirmed whether it will order any of these killer robot boats for its fleet just yet. However, we now live in a world where unconventional attacks occur with unconventional weapons and tactics, and it is increasingly taking place on the world's waters.
Just what the plans are for the Module are, no one knows but just knowing that it could be on the waterways at any time could be the mental smackdown those wily pirates need to stop their hijinks.