Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV): Made in the Philippines?

In last week’s column, I wrote about an opportunity in the 1990s for the Philippines to access the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), otherwise known as Drone technology.  I also mentioned the possibility of making Philippine UAVs to go with the opportunity.

What I did not mention was that the next project after UAV would have been what was called at the time Unmanned Water or Marine Vehicles project. The official term for it now is Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV).

For almost the same military uses primarily protecting the Philippine Archipelago’s maritime territories; for their civilian functionalities; and commercial applications, I thought at the time that the Philippines should also acquire the USV technology.

About two weeks ago, the Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera visited the Philippines.  He met with Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, signed a couple of agreements, and later on co-hosted a press conference.  

At the conference they announced that the Philippines would establish basing arrangements with both the US and Japanese militaries.  Foreign Minister Onodera also pledged to help the Philippines defend “its remote islands” in its dispute against China regarding the waters of the South China Sea.  

Furthermore, Onodera also mentioned that Japan would officially back the Philippine’s claim of territorial sovereignty which is currently being adjudicated by the United National Commission on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  Such unprecedented support validates the Philippine legal claim to the disputed waters.

I am not privy to the discussions between and among the Japanese, American, and Philippine government officials.  But I sincerely hope that it included not just the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) as practiced by Philippine and U.S. Naval forces during their joint exercises but also the use of Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs).

Based on my research, outside of the United States and Israel, Japan has one of the most sophisticated and most advanced USVs in the world.  Compared to China, which is only in the conceptual design phase, Japan has already developed fully operational USVs with full military as well as civilian and commercial uses.

Japan’s Yamaha, for example, developed two USVs – the Unmanned Marine Vehicle High –Speed  (UMV-H) and the Unmanned Marine Vehicle Ocean (UMV-O).

This is how a USV Research and survey describes the two:

“The UMV-H is a deep-V mass-produced hull, equipped with 90 KW to go 40 knots using water-jet propulsion.  The boat can be used either manned or unmanned.  At a length of 4.44 m, the craft is small enough to be loaded on a small cutter, but large enough to accommodate all necessary equipment and instruments such as under-water cameras (ROV) and sonar equipment.

The UMV-O is an ocean-going USV with displacement hull. It is used primarily in applications involving monitoring of bio-geo-chemical, physical parameters of the oceans and atmosphere that put the long-distance capabilities of the vehicle to effective use. “
If the Philippines is able to access and even acquire the Japanese USV technology, together they would be able to protect themselves against Chinese bullying without the risk of losing more lives.  Furthermore, Filipino seafarers, sailors or seamen who already man most of the Japanese ships, could also be relied upon to help in mass-producing the USVs perhaps in Subic.  The Philippines could also work with the Japanese in developing and training a new brand of sailors to operate these USVs.
I am familiar with some of the USVs developed and used by the United States.  They are not limited to military uses.  Some are productive in combating maritime problems such as piracy and human trafficking.  They are also ideal for Philippine use in stopping smuggling and counter narcotics as well as preventing piracy.  They could also be used during the floods and in search and rescue operations.    
I understand that unmanned civilian boats created for leisure have begun operating.
We supply the seamen or crews for most of the ships in the world.  Such sailors have been remitting more than $4B annually to the Philippines.  Their contribution to the Philippine economy is undeniable.

We graduate about 300,000 seamen every year.  It would be wise if we eventually train our graduates to operate USVs as well.  

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