Author: Ioseba Tena, Global Business Manager – Defence & Robotics

Recent attacks on four ships in the strategic port of Fujairah, in the United Arab Emirates, have highlighted just how exposed we are to underwater threats. An investigation into the attacks describe them as showing a “high degree of sophistication,” using fast boats to deploy divers with limpet mines.

Today’s threats are changing. As well as divers, and diver or swimmer delivery vehicles (SDVs), there other underwater intruders, such as autonomous and unmanned underwater vehicles (AUVs/UUVs), which have become more easily available globally and could be used by enemy agents at increasingly lower costs.

Access to robotic vehicles is getting easier by the day. Diver systems and behaviours have also evolved in efforts to ‘out-wit’ detection systems. In short, the asymmetry of these threats is increasing, so the systems that detect them also need to evolve.

It’s not the first time that terrorists use the underwater domain to enable their acts of sabotage. It won’t be the last. However, the tools exist to protect against those threats.

We are the leading provider of underwater intruder detection systems    

With more than 150 installations worldwide, Sentinel is the undisputed leader in the field. Originally launched in 2007, Sentinel was designed to help protect infrastructure and high-value maritime facilities and vessels. We designed Sentinel to be small and lightweight for ease of deployment and standalone use. It’s now also scalable. We can network Sentinel sonar heads together to improve situational awareness. Sentinel merges the data from all the units and presents a single picture of the environment. Using simple interfaces, we can integrate it with third-party security systems or command and control (C2) stations.

Sentinel has come a long way and it is now an established tool used by leading navies to protect their naval bases and vessels, in critical infrastructure projects, including nuclear and oil and gas facilities, and by private individuals who value their security.

What lessons have we learned?

When it was first launched, Sentinel was a game-changer. It could detect diver delivery systems up to its range limit of 1,500 m and divers  up to 900 m away. It could manage thousands of tracks and we developed some serious artificial intelligence (AI) to help raise alarms – when alarms needed to be raised.  The trick is to pick up alarms as far away as possible in order to give your team time to react and organise your response.

But, where you place Sentinel in the environment is the single element that can have the biggest impact on success. We need to consider the topography of the seafloor and the areas that you wish to protect carefully. Deployment options are relevant because they help you maximise your area coverage and improve your reaction times.  Our team of expert field-engineers have the experience and the know-how to make your project successful. When setting up an underwater detection system against saboteurs, experience matters.

Future threats

People are only just beginning to realise how significant robotic systems will be in the wrong hands. There will be an increasing need to protect against them. We are continuously enhancing our offering to counter these threats and underwater intruders.

Underwater operations are difficult. It’s a challenging physics problem to solve, but there is a lot we can do to improve our offering. For one, we are already developing new analytical techniques to solve the problems. We can do this because electronics are becoming smaller, lighter and less power hungry. We also have new ideas in the pipeline. We have never been afraid to pull a few rabbits out the hat and are proud of our record for changing the game. So watch this space.