North Australia Surveillance Employs Unmanned Systems

The Bluebottle an Unmanned Maritime Surface Vessel developed by Ocius Technologies.
The Bluebottle an Unmanned Maritime Surface Vessel developed by Ocius Technologies.

NORFORCE, one of three Regional Fore Surveillance Units, provides an ever-present screen of northern Australia employing land observation posts and patrols, small craft, aircraft and, recently unmanned platforms.

The mission of its soldiers is to monitor the littoral approaches to the country conducting reconnaissance and surveillance of over 5500 square kilometres of area detecting illegal activities and potential intrusions.

NORFORCE Patrol Master, Captain Stephen Sewell explained in an official Defence release by Captain Lily Charles, “the Regional Force Surveillance Units have an intimate relationship with the Indigenous communities and leaders in their respective areas of operation, which is vital to the enhanced understanding of country, patterns of life and access across the north of Australia, all of which directly contributes to the land component outcomes.”

In the recent exercise Operation Resolute NORFORCE introduced a new asset, the Bluebottle an unmanned maritime surface vessel developed by Ocius Technologies. Bluebottles can provide 24/7 on-water surveillance capability with the added flexibility of being manoeuvred as needed to respond to unanticipated events or undertake unplanned surveillance tasks.

The Bluebottles, Ocius explained, “use solar and/or wind and/or wave energy so are persistent and can stay at sea indefinitely only limited by biofouling.” They have a 5-knot water speed, have a payload of 300 kg, and can operate in various sea conditions. The vessel has a retractable “solar sail” to harness solar and wind energy while propelled by a unique rudder-flipper that steers, guides and powers the unmanned vessel generating forward thrust from the pitching of the vessel in the waves. It maintains stability through a patented ‘keel winch’ is a cassette that displaces water ballast in the keel. The Bluebottle accommodates a range of sensors and communications including networking with other sea, land or air stations.

Major Alexander Brent, the Maritime Border Command (MBC) Liaison Officer, shared “the Bluebottles not only conducted surveillance but conducted more specific reconnaissance tasks, such as beach landing site reconnaissance and avenues of approach to specific islands in advance of the ground force.”

The Bluebottles were controlled remotely and proved to be a valuable asset to NORFORCE. The excellent results of this trial by NORFORCE will inform the possibility of future teaming with unmanned maritime assets to support amphibious and littoral combat manoeuvres.

by Stephen W. Miller