Friday, March 06, 2009

Somali Pirates: Eyes in the Sky Intel

A hometown newspaper covers Somali piracy from a local angle here, with some good information from a young officer about how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are put to use in thwarting Somali pirates:
Clarke, 23, is an intelligence officer aboard the Navy's USS Mahan, a destroyer on duty off the coast of Somalia.

Unmanned drones from the Mahan scour the sea and relay photos of suspected pirate “motherships.” The drones – with nicknames such as Jack Sparrow – have led to the capture of more than a dozen suspected pirates.
Q. These pirate boats don't fly the Jolly Roger. So how do you find them?

We identify people or vessels that do not appear normal. We look for specific tripwires: dual outboard motors, flashy clothing, no visible fishing gear, and weapons.

Q. Talk about the drones.

An “unmanned aerial vehicle” weighs about 40 lbs. It can fly up to 65 miles at an altitude of up to 16,000 feet. They're equipped for either night and day photography.

At the beginning of deployment, we struggled to come up with names for them. We had problems getting some to stay in flight. So we first thought of naming them after birds that don't fly, like Dodo or Turkey. But then we thought about our overall mission and decided to name them after famous pirates.

Q. What happens when a drone finds pirates?

We analyze the photos for tripwires that imply pirate activity. We report everything to the task force, which coordinates U.S. and allied aircraft.

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