Irish navy drones to fight drug cartels

The naval service is to use drones in the fight against international drug smugglers and illegal fishing, with the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) also to help with search and rescue missions.

With just an eight-ship fleet responsible for security in 1m sq km of seas, drones would give the navy an ‘eye in the sky’.

As part of a drive to make the naval service the “smartest in the world”, it is also developing wifi to be used in harbours by companies and visiting yachtsmen, and is working on a number of commercial projects with private companies.

Naval personnel are also working on designing ships’ hull to cut down on fuel use, while testing new technology to detect the presence of microbes which can clog up fuel systems.

Details of its collaboration with private companies under the umbrella of the Halpin Centre for Research and Innovation, part of CIT, and the National Maritime College of Ireland, were revealed by the most senior officer in the naval service.

Flag officer commanding the naval service, Hugh Tulley, said the collaboration “is a game-changer for us” as it aids the force’s military capabilities as well as helping companies to develop products.

He also said that while the military traditionally sucked resources from the State, this private/public collaboration is a way of giving back to the taxpayer.

It is to the forefront of developing UAVs — more commonly known as drones — for a number of purposes in collaboration with the private company Skytech, which is based close to its Haulbowline headquarters.

“Radar only extends up to 10 miles, said Comdr Tully. “The UAVs’ range is much farther. For example, it would be very good for search and rescue operations instead of using helicopters which are very expensive. We are working away to perfect landing them on our ships and the specifications of the new ships we have and are getting [with space onboard for launch/landings] will enable us to do that.”

Retrieving the drones during windy weather can be achieved by catching them in onboard netting.

Comdr Tully said he hoped the drones would become operational in the short term to help with search and rescue operations, and the naval service was working closely with the coastguard to achieve this. He said the drones would also help with fishery protection, as this country sees an estimated €2bn of fish taken from its waters every year, sometimes illegally.

Comdr Tully said drones had a significant part to play in surveillance of suspected drug shipments.

The navy often puts the air corps on standby if it is shadowing drugs shipments, but smaller drones would be less obtrusive and less likely to be spotted by smugglers.

“UAVs would be more discreet,” said Cmdr Tully. “We don’t want to spook the drug smugglers, as they might dump the stuff overboard before we board them.”

The navy is working with Seftec to develop systems to monitor firefighters operating in extremely dangerous conditions, especially in confined spaces. The service is also helping to develop ‘data loggers’ on ships to monitor their engines’ performances and the outside environment.

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