Canadian Navy Wants To Use Drone Boats To Stop Iranian Swarm Attacks

Courtesy David Flewellyn/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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Swarm attacks from small, lightly-armed boats pose a threat to large naval ships, but the Canadian navy has found a way to prevent such attacks using specialized drone boats.

The plan involves using small, remotely-controlled boats known as Humpbacks to jam incoming missiles fired by small boats belonging to adversaries like Iran and China. The Humpbacks would be fitted with an electronic warfare package that would emit radio signals, making it a decoy for an enemy missile.

“Let’s assume for a minute there’s a missile coming in. You get it to lock on to the decoy, and the missile veers off and goes after it. Chances are it’s not going to hit it because missile systems look for what’s called the center of the mass,” Ken Hansen, a retired Canadian Navy commander and current military analyst, told Canada’s LocalXpress. “They’ll have a targeting system that will be scanning for a target and it will look and look and look and look. But it will have a threshold. It will have a certain mass that it needs to see if it’s a radar-homing (weapon) and it won’t see it. It will just fly right by the decoy.”

Western countries have a substantially larger naval capacity compared to China and Iran. In an effort to counter them, both countries have invested in small, cheap boats armed with missiles and high-caliber machine guns. With enough of these armed ships attacking in a swarm, a larger Navy vessel would be overwhelmed, or so the theory goes.

Hansen explained that the drone boats could be deployed and controlled as many as 15 miles ahead of the larger vessels.

“And that’s enough distance, you know, horizontal separation, between you, being a target, and it being a decoy, that whatever weapon system goes after it, instead of you, that’s a miss for you. You’re laughing; this is good,” he said.

The Humpbacks are also cheap and expendable, though Hansen said they would likely have good survivability.

As an enemy missile closes in on the Humpback’s jamming signal, it would likely be unable to hit the small boat.

“It will just hit the water and bounce off. You might very well save your decoy in the process,” he said.

The U.S. has already made advancement in drone boat tactics through a technology known as CARACaS (Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing), which allows drone boats to be operated without a sailor behind the controls. CARACaS can not only help defend ships, it can also allow the drone boats to go on the offensive, and swarm attack an enemy target.


While the U.S. is at the forefront of drone boat technology, Hansen said he does not know of any other navy using them to as a defensive tool in theater. He added that the Humpbacks could also be used offensively, just like the U.S. CARACaS technology.

Using drone boats offensively in large numbers could also help keep sailors safe, according to Dr. Robert Brizzolara, a program manager at the Office of Naval Research.

“This multiplies combat power by allowing CARACaS-enabled boats to do some of the dangerous work,” Brizzolara said. “It will remove our Sailors and Marines from many dangerous situations—for instance when they need to approach hostile or suspicious vessels. If an adversary were to fire on the USVs (Unmanned Surface Vehicles), no humans would be at risk.”

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