TEL AVIV – Israeli defense electronics company Elbit Systems unveiled a multi-mission, highly autonomous Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) that wages end-to-end mine hunting missions, eliminating the need for men to work in the minefield.
Known as the Seagull, the new USV detects and blow up submerged mines by sending robots and interceptors deep underwater as well as undertaking anti-submarine missions by firing small torpedoes.
The Seagull was developed in secret over the past three years. A two-vessel system, the Seagull is operated using a single Mission Control System (MCS) from the shore or from manned ships.
Ofer Ben-Dov, vice president of the Naval Systems Business Line, Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Elbit’s ISTAR Division, described the USV as a “revolution.”
“We are witnessing the proliferation of submarines, both conventional and nuclear, and sea mines. The cost and risk of dealing with these threats is high,” he said.
“We consider the Israel Navy and Defense Ministry to be advanced potential milestone clients.”
The unveiling coincides with the Israeli Navy’s new mission of protecting economically significant waters and gas fields.
“We would not have entered into this if we did not have a business plan, and if this did not cause much interest and amazement,” Ben-Dov added.
“In recent years, we have identified a growing trend towards sea-based activities,” said Elad Aharonson, executive vice president and general manager at Elbit’s ISTAR Division, adding that the Seagull is a “breakthrough solution.”
As hostile states and terrorist organizations look toward underwater missions to mine ports and launch attacks, Aharonson claims that the Seagull provides “an asymmetrical advantage for those who use it.”
A submarine is traditionally very expensive to detect and neutralize, requiring manned missions of sonar planes and helicopters, or frigates that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build and operate.
Costing tens of millions of dollars, Seagull “changes the balance of power between defender and submarine. The submarine is always used offensively, either to gather intelligence or to attack,” Ben-Dov said.
One vessel carries two sonar sensors located in the bow and stern, and if mines are detected, a second vessel lowers a robot into the water, to further investigate.
“This is a robotic boat that sends other robots into the water,” he added.
If a mine threat is confirmed, the USV will launch a wire-guided torpedo that receives sonar guidance data from the USV. When it zeroes in on the target, it switches on its own electro-optic camera for the approach before detonating itself and the target.
The USV is equipped with two main engines and two thrusters, allowing it to achieve speeds of up to 32 knots, and to turn on the spot. It can also circumvent obstacles while adhering to international sea passage rules, even if the command link is cut, and can remain in the water for over four days. A remote-controlled 12.7mm machine gun is attached to the bow.