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Drone technology linked to artificial intelligence is the latest challenge to world shipping

Drone technology has gained considerable prominence in peace and war in recent years. There are active experiments backed by mega bucks from mega corporations that are looking to autonomous navigation on land, sea and air. We can also count on the same scale of investment into these technologies in military affairs.

More immediate concern arises from armed drone attacks - not just in the Black Sea where the Russo-Ukrainian War rages, but also in the Arabian Gulf. the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Back in 2021, an exploding drone killed two crewmen on a merchant tanker, Mercer Street, off the coast of Oman.

That attack, recalls Fort Lauderdale’s Maritime Executive, was likely the renewal of an ongoing maritime conflict between Israel and Iran. Drone attacks have also been used to target vessels and maritime infrastructure in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, including a marine drone which is a flat, arrowhead-shaped vessel packed with explosives.

Drones can also be used to disrupt communication networks. Attackers can use a drone to transmit a signal which drowns out a target’s communications, disrupting communications between vessels. US merchant ships, both in the Ready Reserve Fleet and Military Sealift Command, rely heavily on commercial communication systems that are susceptible to interference. Global reliance on technologies makes ships susceptible to potential attacks and compromises their ability to communicate vital information in case of emergencies.

Drones are particularly threatening to the maritime industry when they are part of a swarm. Drone swarms are becoming prevalent in maritime operations, according to US Coast Guard officer LCdr Kristopher Thornburg. They consist of numerous small unmanned aerial systems (sUASs), and possess the capability to disrupt.

Last year, the USS Dewey, a guided missile destroyer, was confronted by a swarm of 96 drones deployed by People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia vessels in the South China Sea. These drones created concentric patterns around the ship and launched coordinated swooping attacks that threatened the vessel's safety.

Awareness of drone threats is crucial, but it is only the first step. To safeguard maritime operations, proactive measures are required. One approach is drone detection and neutralisation technologies.

Reperion is a pioneering company in this field, and claims to offer advanced drone detection solutions that can help identify potential threats in real-time, allowing ships to take evasive action before an attack occurs.

Moreover, maritime stakeholders are looking to bolster resilience in communication systems, in order to mitigate potential disruption, partly caused by drones. Modernisation of fleets and mariners, for instance in the US Ready Reserve Fleet, has become imperative.

The director of maritime operations for the Military Sealift Command, Christopher Thayer, emphasises the importance of developing mobile communication systems and incorporating technologies that limit potential intrusions.

As the maritime industry grapples with the evolving challenges posed by drones, concerted efforts must be made to counter threats. Lessons learned from evolving tactics of drone swarms and vulnerabilities exposed by armed drone attacks should inform proactive measures.

The maritime sector now must invest in advanced detection technologies, bolster communication systems, and train crews to operate in contested environments. In this age of innovation, it is essential to recognise the dual nature of technology, its ability to both empower and threaten, and take steps to protect against threats.

Because nothing can stand in the way of military and naval preparedness, because it deals with existential threats to one's nation, it can freely deploy technology as it chooses regardless of risk it imposes to others even friendlies.

While civilian drone apps have faced criticism due to privacy concerns and misuse, it is essential to shed light on the positive impacts they have had as well.

In the aftermath of natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods, drones have been instrumental in surveying affected areas and providing vital information to rescue teams.

Equipped with high-resolution cameras and sensors, drones can quickly assess the damage, locate survivors, and identify potential hazards. This real-time information is crucial in helping emergency responders plan and execute rescue missions effectively, and ultimately save lives.

Moreover, the use of drones in the medical field has been truly groundbreaking. In remote areas or during emergencies, transporting medical supplies or even organs can be extremely time-sensitive. Drones have overcome these challenges by facilitating delivery to otherwise inaccessible locations.

They can transport medical equipment, vaccines, and even blood samples, ensuring that patients receive the essential care they need in a timely manner. This rapid response capability has proven crucial in saving lives, particularly in rural or hard-to-reach areas.

In the agriculture, drones have transformed the way farmers monitor and manage crops. With advanced imaging technology, drones can assess crop health, detect diseases, and even determine optimal harvest times. This valuable data allows farmers to adjust irrigation and fertiliser applications precisely, leading to increased efficiency and reduced environmental impact.

Drones have also been utilised for precision seeding and spraying, ensuring that each plant receives the necessary care without wasting resources. Ultimately, these advancements contribute to higher crop yields, improved food security and a more sustainable agriculture industry.

Beyond these specific sectors, the versatility of drones has opened up countless opportunities for innovation. From aerial photography and cinematography to infrastructure inspection and maintenance, drones have proven their worth across various industries. Their capabilities continue to expand as technology progresses, and the positive impacts they bring are bound to increase.

Drones have revolutionised numerous sectors, bringing about positive change and transforming industries. From disaster response and medical delivery to environmental conservation and agriculture, drones have proven their worth as invaluable tools in advancing society's well-being.

While it is our every hope, that the reach and stringency of the regulatory state will be much reduced by incoming administrations, it will be some time before such innovations take on a civilian role.

When one has a laissez-faire free marketeer like media star Tucker Carlson wanting to ban self-driving trucks because of its negative impact of on employment, one can see that it is not only health and safety experts that are in the way. There is many an ox to be gored and powerful interests to prevent such gorings.

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