BAe Systems is adapting a series of military aviation defence systems for use on merchant ships in counter-piracy measures. Recent press and internet reports focussed on the test of a part of the system, a green laser deterrent which is part of a layered detection, surveillance and deterrence system.
Bryan Hore, BAE Systems, Business Development Manager, Strategic Capability Solutions, presented the proposed system, which has yet to receive commercial backing, at a recent conference which included an analysis of the forces driving piracy off Somalia, including the overfishing which led to the first hijacks of foreign fishing vessels. The fishermen see ransom as compensation for their lost livelihoods.
The system uses High Frequency Surface Wave Radar, which can see ‘over the horizon’ for early detection of potential threats such as small skiffs.
Using the Panoramic Area Surveillance System, PASS, radar images are fused with images from infrared cameras to detect and provide surveillance of potential threats. A second layer is provided by a Passive Radar Identification System known as PRISM.
PASS and PRISM provide early detection enabling a vessel to evade pirates, provide time to prepare defensive measures and enable a vessel to provide early notification of a potential attack to counter-piracy forces.
The final part of the system is a powerful green laser with two functions: at long distant it will ‘paint’ the approaching skiff and alert the occupants that they have been seen and identified as a potential threat. Simply letting the pirates know that they have been seen and that their target is prepared for them, has often been an effective deterrent.
At closer ranges the laser light will disorientate the pirates, temorarily blinding and incapacitating them. A requirement of the BAe System project is that there should be no lasting damage.
It is understood that the laser system will be automatically guided once triggered, avoiding the need to place seafarers or others in place of danger.
Currently BAE is looking for industry partners to take the project to a deployable level.
Note, however, that like any other defensive system, the use of the BAe System does not mean casting aside Best Management Practices which already have proven to be effective.