One reader has asked about the use of UAV's (Unmanned Ariel Vehicles) being used by merchant marine companies to combat piracy, and if we knew of any companies using them.
UAV's can be a great asset when transiting known hostile waters. However, there are a few issues associated with their use. First of all, before you would purchase and deploy a UAV, you would have to weigh the cost benefit ratio of the unit. In addition, the availability and functionality of the unit.
There are very good UAV's available on the commercial market, and there are UAV's that would offer no real benefit for maritime applications. Fist you must find a UAV that can be deployed and recovered on a moving vessel. There are basically two types. First, there is the fixed wing UAV and the helicopter model. there are companies offering both types that can be deployed from a moving vessel, however, recovery of the unit may be a challenge.
Of course the recovery of a helicopter type unit may be fairly easy to recover as compared to fixed wing, it is possible to recover a fixed wing UAV via net capture if necessary.
The cost of a UAV that is capable: Flight time, streaming video, endurance, day / night capabilities etc. ranges from about $115,000 to $385,000 per set. I say per set as they usually come in a set of two, complete with command and control. Should you lose one in the water, you can imagine the heavy replacement cost. On land, these units are much more acceptable. As you can see by the cost, one UAV system is worth about 4 - 12 armed transits through teh GOA
The next issue is functionality. In this we mean what will the UAV actually do for me, weighed against the training needed to operate the UAV effectively. These are not units to purchase at the local remote controlled airplane store and operate with your kids. These are sophisticated pieces of equipment, supported by advanced computer systems.
I currently do not know of any merchant vessels employing the UAV systems, and for security companies to deploy them would basically be cost prohibitive in an effort to maintain competitiveness in the maritime security market.