Overflight, Overflight, Overflight – The Missing Component To Combatting Piracy

John Konrad
Total Views: 7
April 11, 2009

Navy UAV

Since World War II air dominance has played a critical role in successful military operations, are anti-piracy ops any different?

gCaptain has been interviewed by several news organizations in the past week and the number one question that is asked “What is needed to end piracy in Somalia?”. The best answer for this is dealing with the problem ashore, from economic support to a military invasion, the most effective way to combat piracy is to solve the problem at it’s source.

For reasons we don’t need to explain this solution has the highest number of negative correlations and seems unlikely to be popular with world leaders and the military alike. This leaves us with at-sea solutions, the most effective of which is armed security and training of crews but, again, this solution has a high number of negative possible outcomes including costs, logistics and the potential escalation of violence by the pirates.

Today the Associated Press called gCaptain and asked a slightly more pointed questions; “What is the single action that needs to be taken for short term results”. In other words “Is there a quick & easy fix that can make an immediate difference?” The answer is yes, and to paraphrase a recent Press Release from BIMCO… Overflight, Overflight, Overflight.

Overflight Is Important

By flying parallel to the coast but offset 250 miles (what we call an “Observation Strip”) aircraft could find, identify and vector all small boats that should not be that far out then transmit the information to vessels that can easily alter course and speed.


This solution also has negative components but, unlike military invasion or armed security, they are mostly restricted to cost. There are simply not enough secure landing strips nearby to launch the number of flights needed to effectively monitor both the Gulf Of Aden and the much larger Indian Ocean leaving just one solution for the use of conventional aircraft… the use of an aircraft carrier in the region.

Practically speaking the deployment of an aircraft carrier comes at a financial cost higher than this country is willing to take but it’s potential effectiveness is large. Why? We have fought this battle before with the wolf packs of WWI and WWII in the North Atlantic, a geographic area much larger than the area north and east of Somalia.
The solution there was three fold:
1) The use of convoys
2) Fighting back
3) Overflights as possible.

With convoys lead by military assets that know the location of every small boat that has passed thru the “Observation Strip” steering clear of pirates would be easy. With simple course and speed analysis you could avoid confrontation entirely and thus obviate the need for military escort (maybe even convoys entirely?).

Traditional Aircraft Are Expensive!

But can overflights be done in a cost effective manner and can you launch enough birds to provide 24 hour coverage the entire length of the “Observation Strip”? Yes! Today’s UAV’s (Unmanned Arial Vehicles) have truly amazing capabilities including thousands of miles range, 36 hour hover times and the incorporation of advanced radar and AIS.

The additional capabilities of UAV technology are significant and beyond the scope of this article but, with costs very similar to that of LRAD units, and little-to-no training needed for ship board personnel (they would need only the course and speed plots) the solution is practical, effective and low cost.

Stay tuned for more on how AUV’s can assist in Search & Rescue operations, collect evidence for the future trial of pirates and can effectively monitor large swaths of ocean waters… at a cost palatable to ship owners and governments alike.

Action Item – A Call For UAV’s

Until that time, write your congressman, call BIMCO, speak with your ship owners and request the immediate deployment of long range UAV’s to combat piracy. The solution is simple and will have an immediate impact in the safety of our fellow mariners.

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