Gulf states have incorporated ‘ray-gun’-style technology into their maritime defences in a bit to combat the growing piracy and to prevent civilian vessels from accidently damaging expensive oil and gas terminals, the regional head of a leading US defence contractor told Arabian Business.
Massachusetts-based Raytheon, the world’s largest missile maker, has developed a new technology known as ‘Silent Guardian’ which has been adapted for use on vessels in the Gulf, Kevin Massengill, the defence contractor’s vice president and regional executive, said in an interview in Dubai.
According to Raytheon’s website, ‘Silent Guardian’ directs a focused beam of millimetre wave energy that travels at the speed of light and produces an intolerable sensation that causes targeted individuals to flee or take cover. The sensation immediately ceases when an individual moves away from the beam or the operator discontinues engagement.
“That capability in a maritime application would allow you to defend ships against pirates being able to board. That is a really great technology that our business in Tucson has married up with acoustic hailers and ship defences. It is a great product for shipping to use in a purely defence capability,” he added.
The move comes as the UAE Minister of Economy, Sultan bin Saeed Al-Mansouri, told a conference in April “the shipping business in general now has to address growing piracy threats”.
Last year, the United Nations estimated that the cost of piracy on the global shipping industry could be as high as US$12bn. In addition to defence capabilities, Massengill said the Silent Guardian also has other uses, such as protecting oil and gas terminals from damage by civilian vessels.
That technology has been purchased in the region and has been used in critical infrastructure protection,” Massengill said. “If you are the Abu Dhabi Maritime Authority of the coast guard, for example, one of the things you are constantly frustrated with is local fishermen encroaching in on very expensive oil and gas infrastructure.
“It is not that you want to shot anybody, or anything that they are doing is deliberate, but it could be dangerous if they moor on the wrong thing… So this kind of technology is exactly what you want to be able to bridge [the] gap between lethal force and being able to defend critical infrastructure. That is what it is being used for right now in the region,” he added.
One of the Gulf states this sort of technology would suit is Oman, which earlier this year announced it was to spend US$86m on military equipment.
The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency in June said it was negotiating a military sale to Oman for 55 Sidewinder All-Up-Round missiles, 36 Sidewinder Captive Air Training missiles, six tactical guidance units, four captive air training missile guidance units, one dummy air training missile, and other related equipment.
“Oman has just recently announced a very large programme in maritime surveillance, which is not just about piracy but is about controlled fishing and safety and Raytheon is one of three companies [involved],” Massengill said.
As part of a wide-ranging interview, the Raytheon executive also revealed that up to four Gulf states are looking to use military sensors to track tankers leaking oil along the region’s coastline.
“We are in discussions with at least four countries right now to cover this,” Massengill said.
“Without this kind of technology you will have people who will dump their ballast, to lighten their load, at the mouth of the Arabian Gulf.
“With this you can trace it back to the individual boat and assess fines properly and you can keep that behaviour at a minimum,” he explained.
Billions of dollars worth of oil passes through the Gulf every day and governments are increasingly looking to crack down on the environmental impact the trade has on the region’s coastlines.
The Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the worst in history, resulted in 4.9m barrels of oil spilling into the sea in the summer of 2010 and analysts at UBS bank estimated that the economic losses were as high as US$12bn.