The navy, in cooperation with experts from the National Maritime College’s Halpin Centre and CIT, increased the scope of its systems radar capabilities more than 10-fold by putting sensors on a helium-filled kite which was winched into the air.
The first trials of the new system, known as Project AEOLUS, were carried out by the crew of the Naval Service flagship LÉ Eithne.
A Naval Service spokesman involved in the trials said the HeliKite was raised 150m above the ship to test the equipment.
“Normal radar systems on ships have a range of up to 12 miles. With this equipment. the range can extend up to 100 miles,” he said.
The HeliKite has also been fitted with a wide band direction-finding antenna which also broadens the range at which distress signals can be picked up, and would aid the Naval Service to reach rescue scenes.
The HeliKite was launched from a winch, fitted onto the helicopter pad of LÉ Eithne.
While it only took a couple of hours to get the winch assembled, the Naval Service is looking to deploy the radar equipment on a drone which would cut out the requirement for winches to be installed on ships.
The spokesman said the new technology would be ideal for navy and merchant ships operating in areas where pirate attacks are common, such as off the coast of Somalia.
The extended radar capabilities would give them more warning and more time to plan.
It will also assist the Naval Service in conducting greater surveillance in Irish territorial waters which, in effect, are 10 times larger than the country’s land mass.
“The trials were very successful. The next stage is to make it commercially viable and that will result from some fine tuning,” said the spokesman.
The Naval Service is involved in collaboration with other agencies in a number of other projects.
It is also planning to expand its use of drones after their first deployment on an operational mission last July proved an outstanding success.
Lt Commander Phil Watson used a drone on several occasions during LÉ Eithne’s tour of duty on migrant rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea.
The drone captured footage of a people smuggler who changed his clothes and tried to pretend he was a migrant before being rescued by the LÉ Eithne’s crew. The man had been later handed over to the Italian authorities along with the evidence captured by the drone.
Lt Commander Watson had sent out the drone just before the navy launched rescues to prioritise who needed saving first.
The use of drones will give the navy far greater scope for intercepting drug shipments and for fishery surveillance.