The security and surveillance roles of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become the latest tool deployed against the murky world of organised criminal activity. The problem lies in trying to catch determined individuals or gangs on land or sea using solely land-based technologies. Many of those involved in such illegal activities are well aware of the patch or region within which they operate, so further advanced capabilities are required for the authorities to stay one step ahead. This is where the use of aerial surveillance and, specifically, UAVs comes in handy.

UAV platforms cannot be deployed on every ship due to the space required to operate them. There should be at least 10×10m of deck space to have enough clearance for security during take-off and landing. In addition, the ship needs to be equipped with hangaring facilities; it does not have to be very big, but it is important to cater for the logistical footprint.

Heavy-fuel engines

UAVs typically use piston engines, with gasoline being the conventional fuel of choice for engineers. Platforms that burn gasoline are relatively simple and inexpensive to build.

Fuel, of course, comes from crude oil, which is not a uniform substance. It is made up of liquids of varying densities. Before it can be used to make fuel, it needs to be separated by its different weights, or fractions. As a whole, jet fuel is known as heavy fuel because it is denser and contains more energy in a given volume than gasoline. The reason for using this fuel over gasoline is the fact that it is very hard to ignite and it can sit in storage containers for a long time without degrading. This makes it relatively safe and reduces the risk of fire on a ship or base.

There are a range of different types of fuel that fall into the category of heavy fuel, including Jet A, JP-5 and JP-8. The largely kerosene-based JP-8 is one of the primary fuels used for this initiative, and has the additional advantage of supporting NATO's one-fuel policy.

One UAV that has been built with maritime requirements in mind is the SKELDAR V-200. It not only includes an interface with BMS and C4ISR systems but is also 4865-STANAGcompliant, making it easier to implement on any maritime vessel. With a multiple payload capability and uniquely incorporating heavy fuel, the SKELDAR V-200 has the capability to take off from any ship and gather intelligence within designated target areas in minutes. UAVs like the SKELDAR V-200 are therefore perfect for government officials across the globe who require accurate and cost-effective solutions for dealing with security intelligence around their borders.

Future developments

With those involved in illegal activities – from illegal boarding of merchant ships to transporting contraband – now resorting to sophisticated means, the role of agencies in detection and prevention is more challenging than ever before.

UAVs such as the SKELDAR V-200 are being more frequently reviewed for tackling maritime issues including piracy, illegal border crossing and drug trafficking to name a few. This use will only increase in the future as a combination of more complex requirements in conjunction with the need for a rapid response become the norm.