Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ Protector Unmanned Service Vehicle (USV) is the first remote-controlled naval combat vessel to enter operational service. The Israeli -made USV is a response to maritime threats such as al Qaeda’s suicide attack against the US Navy’s Cole guided-missile destroyer in October 2000.

The Protector is a 9-meter long inflatable boat that can execute a razor sharp 90-degree turn on high seas. Onboard equipment includes a Mini-Typhoon stabilized weapon system, Toplite electro-optic (EO) surveillance and day/night targeting system, charge coupled devices (CCD) for digital imaging, forward looking infrared (FLIR) and laser rangefinders. The unmanned vessel is powered by a single diesel engine driving water jets and can reach speeds up to 50 kn.

In operation with the IDF, two soldiers board the Protector, load the weapons system and disembark. The unmanned vessel’s long-range cameras and surveillance equipment can detect suspicious vessels in Israeli waters. Remote operators who identify threat targets can deploy the Mini-Typhoon to engage the enemy without endangering lives. For this reason, IDF sources hope that the USV, which is still a novelty in naval service, will become as common as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

The Protector recently demonstrated its capabilities in a NATO exercise that was held along the shores of Israel. A NATO ship spotted a large number of hostile vessels rapidly advancing towards it in attack formation. The ship reported back to headquarters, prompting the deployment of Rafael’s Protector USV to identify the threat from a long range. An order was given to neutralize one of the threat ships, and the Protector simulated the firing of Rafael’s SPIKE EO missile.

A Rafael spokesman noted: “The demonstration illustrated some of Protector’s capabilities that can be applied in a wide range of operational scenarios. These capabilities are a significant force multiplier for naval forces, from the stage of detection, deterrence and, if necessary, neutralization of the threat, as was seen in the demonstration.”