Spartan Scout makes unmanned waves

The Navy yesterday announced the first successful test patrol of an remote-controlled, unmanned surface vessel.

The Spartan Scout, a rigid hull inflatable boat, contains enhanced camera and sensor gear. During the test, it was controlled by laptop users aboard the U.S.S. Gettysburg, a guided missile cruiser. The test lasted three hours and was considered to be a success.

Unmanned vehicles lately have made a name for themselves, as they provide front-line troops with extended vision, sensor reach and even fire power with the advent of the new unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs). The Navy and the Army have made headway into the unmanned game with surface and ground vehicles, respectively.

Navy officials argue that an unmanned surface vessel can extend the sensor reach of surface ships, thereby protecting them from attack. Equipped with Hellfire or Javelin missiles, unmanned surface vessels could also one day become a potent offensive weapons platform.

According to a Gettysburg spokesman, the test, which concluded Dec. 12, was the first unmanned operation of the Spartan Scout from a U.S. warship at sea, and marks a significant milestone in the future development of the Spartan Scout.

"Using a forward-looking infrared/CCD camera, Spartan Scout can provide surveillance in a harbor, not only for Navy ships but for U.S. Coast Guard units responsible for port security, as well," said Rear Adm. James Stavridis, commander of the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group. "The unmanned surface vehicle is a harbinger of transformation."

The Newport, R.I.-based Naval Undersea Warfare Center began development on the first remote-controlled surface vehicles two years ago. The Spartan Scout has since deployed ahead of schedule with the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, serving with the Fifth Fleet, which covers areas in the Middle East including the Red Sea, Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean.

The results of the test were sent to the Naval Undersea Warfare Center for evaluation.

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