According to Rafael’s Udi Netzer, the Protector can be used for military, naval and homeland security applications.A critical problem for any country’s navy is figuring out how to patrol its territory and protect its nation’s shore without putting its vessels and seamen at excessive risk of enemy attack. And no country is more aware of the problem than Israel.

Israel has long been a world leader in keeping territory on the ground safe by using unmanned aerial vehicles. Some of these aircraft, according to foreign reports, are equipped with offensive weapons used to target Palestinian terrorists. The Israeli military has also begun deploying remote-controlled vehicles along the security fence in the West Bank.

That’s why it’s not surprising that an Israeli company – Rafael Armament Development Authority Ltd. – has developed a novel solution that identifies infiltration and terrorists while safeguarding the lives of troops on the seas. The solution is called the ‘Protector’ and it represents the world’s first speedboat drone, operated without any personnel on board. One of the first systems is already headed to the US for evaluation, following the signing of a cooperation agreement with US giants Lockheed Martin and BAE System.

The 30-foot-long ‘Protector’ boat can reach speeds of up to 43 miles per hour and is fitted with a radar system, cameras that can identify targets, and a light machine-gun.

Long a leader is developing unmanned vehicles and aircraft, the Israeli-developed Protector is a natural progression based on the success of autonomous remotely controlled surface vehicles. Rafael, which designs, develops, manufactures and supplies a wide range of advanced defense systems including naval, air and ground precision weapons, and electro-optic systems, is one of the world leaders in its field.

According to Udi Netzer, Rafael’s corporate vice president and general manager of the systems division, the integrated naval combat system can conduct a wide spectrum of critical missions, without exposing personnel and capital assets to unnecessary risk,

“We started the development of the system back in 2001 – it was our own initiative, there were no requests for us to develop it. It just came out of our understanding of future fleets and what they would look like,” he told ISRAEL21c.

“We spent a couple years using our own R&D funding with the idea that the focus of the boat should be on anti-terror capabilities, and self protection of big ships, as well as harbor protection and oil rigs.”

The Protector’s anti-terror mission module payload includes sensors and weapon systems. Each boat is equipped with at least four cameras, as well as a sonar or radar system, and electro-optics capable of providing a three-dimensional image. The machine gun on board is a mini-Typhoon type, also developed by Rafael. The Typhoon system allows the gun to stay on target as the unmanned surface vehicle (USV) bounces across the waves.

According to Dr. Noam Brock, who was in charge of the Rafael team that developed the Protector, the boat operates well at night and can cope with very rough sea conditions. Its systems are so advanced that they can track the flight of a single bird, he told a conference in Tel Aviv University, the Israeli paper Ma’ariv reported.

Netzer says that the Protector can be used for military, naval and homeland security applications.

“There’s only one similar development in the world – in the US – but their application is geared for underwater to prorect subs and against mines. But we decided that the anti-terror and shore protection applications are more relevant to the current needs of the world,” said Netzer.

As soon as the Israeli Navy, as well as navies around the world, heard about the plans for the speedboat drone, Rafael began receiving inquiries.

“There’s been big interest worldwide. It’s more like customer education. In many senses, we’re more advanced in operation culture than the navies themselves,” Netzer said.

“In the middle of 2004, we were approached by a foreign country – in the Far East – who said they wanted to buy a Protector immediately. And by the end of that year we delivered the first complete ship. Right now there are two fully operational systems. If there’s a customer that wants a boat immediately, we can provide it.”

He disclosed that the Protector bought by the Far East country is currently being deployed in the Persian Gulf as self-protection for a mother ship, circling between three and five nautical miles around the home base.

“The Protector was taken on board, all the command control data link communication were programmed, and when it got to the designated area, it was launched, it circles the mother ship giving early detection of any possible infiltration,” he explained.

At a demonstration late last year for reporters in Israel, the sleek stealthy boat was able to quickly maneuver around the harbor of a navy base, while controlled by a civilian operator inside a control room.

Rafael is delivering the first Protector to the Israeli Navy this month, which will be used for operational evaluation. The Navy plans to deploy it for dangerous tasks, such as monitoring the coast for suspected infiltrators. Palestinian terrorists have detonated themselves a number of times next to Navy patrol boats, and the Navy has long sought a safer way to approach suspicious sea craft. Developers also said the Protector could be used to ferry commandos, as well as contribute to anti-terrorist protection.

“The Israeli Navy has been big supporters from the first time we met with them in 2004,” said Netzer.

The development by Rafael appears to be riding the crest of a wave. According to an American study reported by Ma’ariv, by the year 2020, a third of the US war fleet will consist of unmanned vessels. The study added that the world market for unmanned ships like the Protector could reach $1.8 billion by the year 2011.

“The next step for the future will be to equip the system with greater attack capabilities,” said Netzer.

He added that the development agreement with Lockheed Martin and BAE is a sign that the US takes the Protector and what it represents to the safety of American interests very seriously.

“There’ll certainly be a time soon when the Protector will be protecting US ships,”