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21/06/23: US Navy Deploys Unmanned Surface Vessels To Rescue Drowned Pilots In BALTOPS Naval Exercis

The U.S. Navy in Europe is currently experimenting with inexpensive, ready-made, unmanned boats to rescue sailors, a strategy that officials say will restrict the risk inherent in several search-and-rescue missions at sea.

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A commercial and advanced remote-controlled speedboat was, for the first time, put to use to test the rescue of a pilot at sea as a part of the international and yearly U.S.-led sea exercise dubbed the BALTOPS, the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/the U.S. 6th Fleet mentioned in its statement on Wednesday.

The two-week assignment ended on Friday, which included Britain, Estonia, the U.S., Finland, Latvia, Germany, Turkey, and 13 more countries.

An unmanned surface vehicle or a drone boat would permit the fleet to act promptly while putting off the need to add more individuals and assets in harm’s way, particularly in poor weather or in combat, Joe Klein, the manager of the personnel recovery program associated with NAVEUR-AF, explained in his statement.

The military is building a capability for recovering aviators who go down in high-threat zones where access is denied. Klein mentioned that the unmanned surface vehicle is a potential solution to such a dilemma.

In adverse conditions, an unsuccessful rescue mission can compound a tragedy. For instance, seven Romanian service members on a search and rescue mission for a downed pilot lost their lives in 2022 (March) when the helicopter they were in crashed close to the Black Sea.

The drone boat can also be used in other cases, such as rescuing an overboard sailor, per its Florida-based manufacturer, MARTAC Systems.

Drones are yet far from replacing highly specialized search and rescue groups in several situations.

But for the relatively less complicated rescue missions, the boat can be well-programmed to go directly to a pilot, who can climb aboard from a life raft before getting evacuated. In situations that involve multiple pilots, the life rafts could also be hooked carefully onto the drone boat, the firm mentioned.

Using a remote-controlled rescue boat reportedly highlights the immense experimental capacity of the BALTOPS, which in 2023 included testing surface, aerial, and underwater drones.

The Navy and Allied forces used a surface boat to launch a small unmanned sub that scanned potential mines. The Navy briefed that such searches expose the crew of a rigid hull inflatable boat to possible injury or death.

Maj mentioned that adaptation and innovation with exercise scenarios and interactions with allies inform strategy in Europe: Gen. Daniel Lasica, the director of strategy, policy, and plans for the US European Command.

A review of this exercise’s new ideas does feed into how we consider modifying the plans, adjusting the strategy, and moving forward as well, Lasica mentioned.

If the Navy wishes, it should not take very long to involve these uncrewed naval vehicles that are tested during BALTOPS into operations, MARTAC representatives declared.

The firm did not comment on how much the boat used in the rescue cost. But the 24-foot boat, which boasts a top speed of 58 mph and a range of up to 500 nms, is less expensive than that of a manned ship with crew, a MARTAC representative stated.

A similar 38-foot boat in production will achieve a top speed of 69 to 92 mph and a range of about 1,200 nm at cruising speed. A boat version is now being tested in Bahrain by the US 5th Fleet, per MARTAC.

It is the technology that is available today, explained Karl Van Dusen, retired Navy officer and senior VP associated with MARTAC. They won’t need to wait for another one/two/five years of research and development activities.

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