US Navy considers UAVs to maintain visual on sailors at sea


US Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) sailors have developed a new use for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to maintain a visual on the sailors at sea, especially during man-overboard situations.

Since 2006, more than 110 sailors and marines have fallen overboard with eight losing their lives, stated the Naval Safety Center.

Conducting operations during rough sea conditions and low visibility increase the risk of a crew member going overboard, and are the most difficult times to maintain a visual on the sailor.

Submarine Force, US Pacific Fleet (SUBPAC) commander lieutenant commander Christopher Keithley said: “Being on the sail of a sub during a night transit in stormy weather made me think about what if someone were to fall overboard, how hard would it be turn around and find them.

“As a submarine officer, I have done numerous man-overboard drills at sea where I gained an appreciation for the difficulty in keeping track of low-profile objects in even the calmest of seas. It was this background that I brought to one of our innovation Lab [iLab] events where the discussion of UAVs occurred.”

"I'm grateful for this opportunity and hope one day I can see the man-overboard UAV used on every ship and submarine that operate in open water."

During the initial proof of concept pilot programme event, Keithley and his team from iLab worked in collaboration to move on with their plan.

Keithley added: “My UAV concept isn't meant to replace current man-overboard procedures but work with them. Because of this programme, I was able to present my idea and hopefully contribute to solving this challenge.”

The idea has been selected to be presented at the next PACFLT Commander's Conference in June.

Keithley added: "I'm grateful for this opportunity and hope one day I can see the man-overboard UAV used on every ship and submarine that operate in open water."


Image: Christopher Keithley demonstrates his idea about a new use for UAVs to a panel of judges. Photo: courtesy of US Navy by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Phillip Pavlovich.