The bizarre-looking pieces of tech are filled with an array of state-of-the-art sensors to monitor maritime activity in the Gulf and could soon be a permanent fixture in the Middle East.
They have been tested in the approaches to Bahrain by the team leading Operation Sentinel, a multinational task force led by Royal Navy Commodore Don Mackinnon.
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And they have already proven themselves. On loan from the US Navy, the drones were able to alert HQ Sentinel of an unidentified vessel approaching Bahrain.
Command center personnel were then able to scramble one of Operation Sentinel’s patrol vessels – the Bahraini Al Muharraq, to intercept the vessel while the drone observed the entire situation from a distance.
A Royal Navy spokesman said: “Once confirmed that the vessel was a friendly merchant vessel, and with no further action required, the Al Muharraq returned to her original patrol and the drones resumed their own silent standby, without needing to refuel or restock.
“The trial proved that collectively the drones and the patrol vessel were capable of patrolling and monitoring a much larger area of sea than an individual warship working alone.”
The test was well received by Commodore Mackinnon, who added, “This exercise was a perfect demonstration of our progress towards a true ‘digital ocean’, an ocean where navies increasingly employ a combination of manned and unmanned, on, above and below the surface, which provide the commander with unparalleled situational awareness and operational choice.
Operation Sentinel is responsible for protecting merchant ships passing through some of the region’s narrowest regions – such as the Strait of Hormuz, gateway to the Gulf, and the Bab-al-Mandeb at the foot of the Red Sea – against attacks.
Currently, the military operation uses a combination of small patrol vessels and larger warships to monitor Gulf activity and defend the billions of pounds of shipping that cross the route.
Among the Royal Navy ships deployed in Bahrain are the Portsmouth-based minehunters HMS Middleton and HMS Chiddingfold and the Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose, which is forward deployed in the region.