“For the first time, non-state adversaries would have an air force.”
Criminals at sea are already going high tech, using GPS and bootleg submarines to plan attacks and skirt around navy ships. According to a new report from a consultant to the Canadian military, the next technological frontier for oceanic crime could be drones.
The report, written by a strategic analyst for the Canadian military named David Rudd, notes that drones could be used for "surveillance" and "possibly weapons delivery," which would give maritime non-state actors, or MNSAs, as they're known, a long-range advantage. These actors could be pirates, smugglers, or traffickers. Rudd quotes one academic as saying, "For the first time, non-state adversaries would have an air force."
Rudd notes that this kind of "super-empowerment" could occur through the transfer of military tech or with commercially available gadgets. Either way, drones could spell trouble for militaries policing the open water.
But drone technology cuts both ways, and Rudd notes that the Canadian military should consider using drones to their advantage against MNSAs, as well. Canada currently uses its navy to bust drug smuggling operations at sea, and conduct anti-piracy and anti-terror operations.
For example, Rudd suggests that drones could be outfitted with sensors to detect "low-acoustic signature swimmers" like the DIY subs used by the cartels circling military ships. Adding a mission bay under the helicopter deck on Canada's warships could allow for drones to be deployed in order to "protect the ship by identifying and prosecuting threats at long range, exposing a swarm [of pirates] to a high level of attrition before any surviving constituents could bring their own weapons to bear." In other words, annihilate them before they can fire off a round.
The use of drone tech to keep up with the capabilities of pirates could also be a cost-effective way to make Canada's cash-strapped navy more capable, Rudd adds. The Canadian military is currently posed to spend more than $30 billion on building more than a dozen new warships to improve its aging fleet, which is seemingly in a perpetual state of disrepair. The program is beset by rising costs and delays, making drones an attractive option. It's worth noting that drones' cost-effectiveness is also likely to make them equally attractive to pirates.
Rudd notes that high-tech weapons such as lasers might be on the horizon for Canada's military, but in terms of drastically changing the scope and style of war at sea, drones might have the most impact—if only because both sides will have them.