The Navy turned to a combination of different sensing technologies to address this. Called the Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker, or MMSS, an unmanned helicopter uses high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors and laser-radar (LADAR) to find the boat. Meanwhile, sophisticated software allows the helicopter to identify the target independently of the operator. The software on board compares a 3-D image to templates and schematics in its memory.
It's an advance over traditional targeting –- in that case, even with an infrared image, soldiers need to check against a group of known silhouettes. Those are a lot less exact, since a boat could be at an angle, making it harder to identify.
The software has been successfully tested in shore-based systems against vessels at sea. The next step is testing it in a piloted helicopter, against groups of about seven small boats in a military sea range off the California coast this summer.
Image: Office of Naval Research