Soundings Papers: Legal and Practical Challenges Associated with the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the Maritime Environment

Soundings No. 11
Soundings No. 11

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Scott Moloney

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are being developed and used by individuals, organisations and military forces at an ever increasing rate. Although not yet ubiquitous, the use of UAV, and other unmanned systems such as unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), unmanned surface vehicles (USV), and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) to enhance military capability, is growing rapidly.

As technological advances occur, increased capability is achieved, cost of production falls and the benefit of unmanned systems becomes more widely known, it is anticipated that the use of these types of systems will increase. Research conducted to date by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), and counterpart forces in the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), and elsewhere, suggests that UAV can successfully be deployed in a variety of roles to increase capability, including in the maritime domain.

As the use of UAV becomes more widespread, issues have emerged in relation to how the use of UAV by the RAN and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) fits into the extant legal framework governing operations law and domestic regulation. In addition, the use of UAV in a maritime environment raises numerous practical issues, particularly in relation to facilitating their use from a platform such as a warship.