Look, No Hands! Boats of the Future Debut at Middle East Expo

By George Backwell at February 16, 2013 07:38
Filed Under: Marine Diesel Engines, Marine Electronics, Unmanned Vessels

Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV) built locally in Abu Dhabi by Al Seer Marine, based on the experience of four generations of such craft designed, built and tested by 5G International, take up centre stage at this week’s IDEX (International Defence Exhibition & Conference) 2013 Expo in Abu Dhabi. That these three sleek, fine-lined craft should grab attention needs no further explanation to those who recall the youthful pleasure of putting a remotely controlled speedboat through its paces on some pond. With these boats that basic idea is seen taken to its ultimate potential.

Eclipse 11m FRP Hulled USV: Photo credit: Al Seer Marine

The three models making their debut at the IDEX Expo are:

  • Sea Serpent, the small 3m (9.8 ft) ‘jet ski’ version
  • Boomeranger, the larger 11m ( (36.1 ft) RIB
  • Eclipse, the top-of-class (same length) FRP.

All of these boats are true robots, programmable so as to give a patrol boat’s surveillance protection to drilling rigs and other offshore assets, though not by the use of lethal force against intruding small boats (to be persistently tagged and automatically warned off is probably effective enough).   These USV’s can be operated remotely via encrypted RF from shore or world-wide via secure satellite links. Options include inertial navigation and Faraday-caged hulls for electromagnetic pulse protection.

Hybrid Propulsion System
Of key importance is the proprietary hybrid propulsion system (presently only available on the Eclipse version, but later planned to be extended to all models) which enables extended time at sea with minimum power output. A 13kW electric hybrid drive on each engine provides silent running and station keeping without having to be constantly starting up the diesels. A large battery bank provides a good energy reserve so that the main engines only infrequently need to be run to charge the batteries. By these means the USV may extend its time on station by eight to ten hours.

“A lot of the hybrid systems have been developed for recreational use to give you electric power out of the marina. But we are obviously looking for something that will provide hundreds of thousands of hours of reliable use,” said Keith Henderson, a director, 5G Marine Systems LLC. “The system is robust, with only minimal moving parts and with service after 20,000 hours at sea before anything has to be replaced.”

Hybrid Propuslion Unit: Photo credit Al Seer Marine

Top Speed in Excess of 50 Knots
The top of the range FRP hulled ‘Eclipse’  USV boat is powered by twin Fiat Power Train (FTP ) 6700 six cylinder in-line diesels of 6.7 ltr displacement with an A2 light commercial rating of 378 kW (500mHP) at 3,000 rpm, driving Rolls-Royce water jets through ZF gears. This gives a total power of 1000mHP and a top speed of 50-plus knots.

These FTP engines are turbocharged and inter-cooled with a common rail fuel system meeting all present and near future exhaust emission requirements and are necessarily very fuel efficient.

Industry analysts perceive a growing interest in unmanned vessels of this kind, not only for use in the maritime security sector, but in other offshore commercial applications as well.



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