The UAV advantage for CNI

The UAV advantage for CNI

Bernard Dunn, president of Boeing Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey explains how Boeing company Insitu is helping the GGC monitor its remote CNI assets with autonomous surveillance systems 

The complex geopolitical environment in the Gulf demands that prudent nations remain constantly vigilant to protect their most important assets. In the face of many different threats, governments are looking for more efficient and effective ways to persistently monitor their borders, and critical national infrastructure (CNI) such oil pipelines, power plants, highways and more.

Similarly, the Gulf’s maritime domain is an essential source of natural resources and a vital transportation link for the global economy. Maritime resources and assets also require constant vigilance against the threat of piracy, sabotage, smuggling and other illicit activities. Maintaining a watch over maritime environments, or monitoring CNI assets in remote, inhospitable terrain like the deserts and mountains of the Arabian Peninsula, is challenging. Traditional manned platforms, such as observation aircraft, are expensive and manpower-intensive, however, so in recent years, many organisations in the GCC have turned to the Boeing family of autonomous systems to meet the challenge.

Autonomous systems bring advanced new capabilities that help organisations to perform ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ missions protecting CNI and other important resources on land and at sea. Autonomous systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned surface vessels (USVs) not only reduce the risk and workload for personnel, but also enable greater awareness and better decision-making than can be achieved via traditional methods that require people to be physically present at the point of interest.

Boeing subsidiary Insitu is a pioneer in the high-performance, cost-effective UAVs. Founded in 1994, Insitu has built more than 3,000 UAVs for a global customer base that spans more than 25 countries, and Insitu platforms have logged nearly 1.3 million flight hours operating over land and sea.

Pull quote in italics: “Autonomous systems bring advanced new capabilities that help organisations to perform ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ missions protecting CNI and other important resources on land and at sea”

The hallmarks of Insitu’s UAV platforms, which include the ScanEagle and Integrator series, are runway independence and payload flexibility. The ability to operate fixed-wing UAVs without the use of runways is among the most valued capabilities for operators. Insitu pioneered the use of runway-independent, fixed-wing UAVs nearly two decades ago, via the use of a pneumatic launch catapult and a patented SkyHook recovery system, which uses a mast rigged with a rope and bungee cables to capture the UAV mid-flight. This equipment enables launch and recovery operations from small clearings on land as well as from ships – even ships that are not equipped with a flight deck.

Insitu’s platforms also offer payload flexibility – the ability to quickly and easily change payloads for each drone, and to integrate new types of payloads when new technologies become available – the Integrator UAV got its name from its ability to easily integrate new payloads.

All of Insitu’s platforms are designed to support plug-and-play compatibility with a variety of payloads, including those from third parties. This payload flexibility means operators can deploy a range of different monitoring technologies and other capabilities, ranging from traditional electro-optical and infrared video cameras to communications relay, synthetic aperture radar and wide-area motion imagery among many others.

For example, ScanEagle UAVs can be equipped with ViDAR (Visual Detection and Ranging) payload, which works like an optical radar to automatically detect objects on the surface of the ocean. ViDAR can detect a person in the water at more than 1.5 nautical miles away and large ships at more than 30 nautical miles away. The United States Coast Guard has utilized ScanEagle ViDAR since 2017, and in that time, the system has supported the detection and seizure of more than $4 billion worth of illicit cargo.

While Insitu’s UAS are being deployed to monitor from above the earth, Boeing subsidiary Liquid Robotics is extending capabilities to the oceans. The revolutionary Wave Glider is an Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) that is able to operate for extended periods, powered only by clean energy sources.

The Wave Glider consists of two parts; a floating surface platform that houses the solar panels and communications antennae, and a sub-surface unit with sensors that operate beneath the waves. The two components convert wave motion into propulsion by leveraging the difference in motion at the ocean surface and below. The solar energy system powers sensors, communications, and enables a thruster propulsion system that provides additional navigational agility and thrust for challenging ocean conditions.

This unique power system allows Wave Glider to stay at sea for extended periods, using just solar and wave energy for operations, including 24/7 real-time data transmissions, without producing any emissions that are harmful to the environment. This operational longevity, combined with an open sensor and payload architecture, is opening up new areas for missions using WaveGlider, including uninterrupted monitoring of sea conditions, low-profile surveillance of maritime borders and assets, or long-term research into the marine environment.

Autonomous systems are helping government and commercial organisations tasked with the safety and security of CNI stay on mission longer, cover more area and provide more immediate, actionable knowledge – making for smarter systems, safer missions and more efficient operations.