Non-Lethal Tactical Vessel Defense System to be Launched

Published Oct 10, 2014 4:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

Over half of piracy and armed robbery attacks at sea succeed because of human failure in lookout and threat response tasks. MATRiX RsS Ltd. (Remote Sentinel Systems) has developed technologies which move the lookout task from the difficult environment of the ship to a controlled environment on land. 

The British company’s new product line, POSSUM, will augment these tasks with tactical defense capabilities by introducing a proprietary ship-mounted, local and remote controlled, non-lethal Capsaicin fog release and propeller fouling system to deter unauthorized boarding and stop approaching small craft. The product is completing R&D, scheduled for production in 2015.

According to Michael J. Scott, founder and inventor of MATRiX RsS and the company’s new POSSUM series, “all past efforts at combating piracy have been chasing a global problem, never to get ahead of it. A radical rethink of what part of the problem to solve opens for the first time the possibility of getting ahead of the problem.” MATRiX RsS has filed for seven UK patents in the past year, with others on-deck as the company continues to make new waves, developing innovative out-of the-box solutions for industry challenges.

The POSSUM line grows out of the company’s namesake remote data transmission technology for the maritime domain, MATRiX. The MATRiX system offers a cure to human error in threat detection and augments vessel monitoring and control.

What is MATRiX?

MATRiX has solved the problem of ultra-low-bandwidth remote data acquisition at sea. The technology provides a solution to the previously impossible ability to remotely and covertly see, hear, communicate with, and take remote control of a client vessel, 24/7/365, world-wide, in port, at anchor, and on the open seas. 

The primary purpose of the MATRiX system is to communicate data and video from ship-to-shore-to-ship. It is capable of monitoring any aspect of a vessel’s functions including perimeter access, bridge functions, engine/s, propeller/s, refrigeration systems, cargo systems, or even real time video (including 365 degree panoramic stroboscopic video of the propeller/s in use, bridge access, and vessel perimeter.)

MATRiX is managed through a proprietary base-station with screen interface in the bridge. This station can be configured as desk mounted, ceiling mounted, or panel mounted as a bridge instrument depending on the client’s preference. It links directly to INMARSAT fleet broadband satellite for remote data acquisition and provision allowing real time transmission worldwide. The MATRiX system consumes a steady 85 Kbps up and 19 Kbps down. Fleet broadband can accommodate all MATRiX data and still perform other tasks the ship uses it for.

The MATRiX system will operate to a 12 second SLA, guaranteeing the 360 degrees around the ship to horizon are checked every 12 seconds, 24/7/365, with proof of task.

The system also integrates into the vessel’s radar, PA, and if available- IP CCTV/stroboscopic video system. It can communicate with wireless camera and sensor technology up to 5 km away, depending on the camera types fitted, far exceeding the intended use in anti-piracy, opening other opportunities in pipe laying, seismic research, and subsea industries. 

Such data, especially video, is transmitted back to land, as raw data or processed data to display on a standard web browser at the ship-owner’s office. MATRiX has also planned their own land-based monitoring center to which ship-owners can outsource vessel function and data monitoring, allowing land-based staff to monitor ship operations 24/7, thereby avoiding the problem of crew fatigue. The center’s staff can then notify the vessel owner or authorities if vessel activities are not congruent with predefined specifications, or if a piracy attack is imminent. 

Moreover, MATRiX’s engineers can work with the ship-owner/operator to design a Customized Control and Recovery System linking the vessel to the land-based monitoring center, allowing expert staff to remotely take control of the vessel in the event of a hijacking or other crisis.

The system is designed knowing that ships are crewed by specialists in marine sciences and navigation, not PhDs in advanced IT and communications technology. The MATRiX products are designed to tolerate damp, even misty, indoor shipboard conditions. Should damage occur, replacement parts are readily available and can be shipped to the vessel’s next port of call. The standard base-station kit comes complete with a spare unit and can be replaced in less than two minutes, without tools and without special training. The base-station is so simple it does not even have an on/off switch.

POSSUM: Filling the void in threat response

Although the MATRiX system can successfully control anything from anywhere, and proves vessels can achieve close to 100 percent, 24/7 detection and monitoring, a need still remained to stop attackers should they attempt a hostile boarding. After much deliberation with potential clients and investors enthusiastic about MATRiX’s ‘eyes and ears’ aboard the vessel, but still seeking something more to provide tactical defense, MATRiX commenced R&D for a new product line, called the POSSUM.

POSSUM is a non-lethal anti-boarding system designed to close the tactical response gap in MATRiX, completing the overall concept of total surveillance and deterrence, while integrating into the main MATRiX system for global control. It is a simple and effective solution for stopping attackers and their attack craft without lethal force, all at less than 15% the cost of armed guards.

The market for MATRiX’s POSSUM system is the merchant navy fleet, those being the target of pirates. The product works by affixing a proprietary propeller fouling system and Capsaicin releasing POSSUM system pod, every 30-50 meters around the perimeter of the vessel. The pods can discharge both Capsaicin fog and propeller fouling nets independently. They are integrated with micro-MATRiX receivers and very low-lux IP connected cameras, capable of seeing in total darkness for uninhibited day or night use. The video feed is shared with the bridge and the MATRiX system wirelessly using short range radio at the 1.2Ghz band (WiFi.)

The pods are designed to fix directly onto the outside of the ship’s rail, facing seaward toward potential threats. Speed-reloading is achieved using a cartridge concept, much like a supersized inkjet printer, except cartridges will be filled with Capsaicin or propeller fouling nets. Fitting or replacing pods is simple, solely six M8 or M10 bolts with tab washers secure the system to the rails. No cables or lines will need to be installed as pods will be self-solar powered and controlled/monitored by bridge radio link or through MATRiX’s satellite link to land. Solar panels will be integrated in each pod with removable LiPo battery packs for power storage, actual launch power, wireless communications power, and aiming-camera power.

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in pepper spray, Tabasco sauce, various weight loss, medical, and other products. Unlike pepper spray, which is illegal in many countries, the possession of Capsaicin is not restricted, therefore port access is not limited and import licenses are not required for possession or use of the Capsaicin cartridges. 

As the command and control system for each pod is actually a mico-MATRiX, the POSSUM system plugs into the vessel’s full MATRiX network, and can be aimed, operated, and controlled by either the monitoring center on land or locally by the ship’s crew from the bridge.

Operating Limitations, Conditions and Concerns

MATRiX’s remote operations are limited only by the extent of satellite infrastructure, which is currently near-global, with communication gaps only existing in the deep Polar regions.

POSSUM is intended for use in open waters. However, the industry has expressed concern regarding the risk of Capsaicin contact with non-targets in a congested area. Although, pirates generally attack in remote areas, armed attacks at congested anchorages and ports do occasionally occur in hotspots around the world. In those situations, POSSUM should be deployed with discretion, just as with firing conventional weapons or other deterrents.

However, the Capsaicin cloud will be visible and thus avoidable for non-target parties navigating outside the immediate area. Capsaicin is heavier than air, and will settle and disperse in the sea after deployment. Protocol for use will recommend having all crew inside a secure area, prior to discharge. Post-use, any residue can be hosed away from the ships exterior to prevent accidental contact with crew or passengers.

System Costs

Target price for the MATRiX base-station system is £55,200. Remote Sentinel Service costs are relative to fleet size and contract term. At lowest cost it would be less than £200 per day (compared to £2,275 per day average current cost of armed guards). 

Final pricing for POSSUM will be established in 2015 and will be based on fleet and vessel perimeter specifications.

By Simon O. Williams. Original summary version released in Naval-Technology.

The products and services herein described in this press release are not endorsed by The Maritime Executive.