At a distance, the Seagull looks like a particularly mean yacht. Bristling with sensors and weapons, the autonomous surface platform, produced by Israel’s Elbit systems, is designed as a defense against submarines. In an exercise with the navy of Greece, Israel tested Seagulls using a dipping sonar originally designed to be carried by helicopters.
“The Seagulls’ performance in the exercise demonstrated that operating a dipping sonar onboard such a vessel significantly increases the operational working time while substantially enhancing detection capabilities and the effectiveness of Anti-Submarine Warfare,” said Elbit.
Three months before the exercise with the Hellenic Navy, Israel did a sea acceptance test for the adaptation of the Helicopter Long-Range Active Sonar (HELRAS) dipping sonar. The HELRAS style of sensor dates back decades, with models tested and deployed in the 1970s. While in light of the technology systems of the late Cold War it made sense to sling sonar from helicopters, the ability to operate it from uncrewed surface vessels adds stability and utility to an durable sensor form.
The Seagull is hardly the first autonomous platform to be designed with submarine hunting in mind, but it is part of a growing trend of uncrewed vehicles performing the essential yet peripheral roles that were once done by human-occupied vehicles on the edge of the fleet. If the Seagull can take on a patrol task once performed by humans in helicopters, it frees up helicopters for tasks better suited toward flying.
Kelsey Atherton blogs about military technology for C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain, Defense News, and Military Times. He previously wrote for Popular Science, and also created, solicited, and edited content for a group blog on political science fiction and international security.