The number of hostages taken by Somali pirates has almost doubled although multinational naval task forces have grown and improved in coordination. At the same time, the pirates' area of operation has almost doubled to 2 million square miles, making the task of patrolling and responding that much harder. A key answer, said several experts with experience in the region, is Scan Eagle, the Boeing-made UAV.
"Scan Eagle type UAS is just great to have out there," said recently retired Rear Adm. Terence McKnight, who commanded Task Force 151 operating against the pirates. "I strongly endorse it. It's exactly what you need out there."
He was seconded by Royal Canadian Commander Steve Waddell, now director of maritime strategy who also served in the region. But Waddell noted that, while Scan Eagle is "very effective at spotting pirates and being a force multiplier," you "can't always substitute a set of eyes and the ability to respond with kinetic weapons..." UAS are a "useful tool but not a replacement," he said.
The two men spoke this morning at an event on piracy put on by Defense & Security Equipment International.
One of the more interesting tidbits offered was by Marine Capt. Alexander Martin, who led the assault on the Magellan Star. What saved the crew, he said, was the creation of a "citadel," a reinforced safe haven where the crew fled when pirates attacked. During the confusion of the attack, communications were lost with the crew so Martin's men had to cut a small hole in the door and show a patch of an American flag to convince the crew they were safe.