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A USV demonstration at Hampton, Virginia; January 2009
The term unmanned surface vehicle (USV) or autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) refers to any vehicle that operates on the surface of the water without a crew. USVs have been tested since World War II but have been largely overshadowed. This is due to the fact the USVs, such as the OWL Mk II surveillance drone, have been classified as Autonomous Underwater Vehicles. Recent successes of UAVs in the Afghan War may pave the way for a new wave of USVs.
USVs are valuable in oceanography, as they are more capable than moored or drifting weather buoys, but far cheaper than the equivalent weather ships and research vessels, and more flexible than commercial-ship contributions. Wave gliders, in particular, harness wave energy for primary propulsion and, with solar cells to power their electronics, have months of marine persistence for both academic and naval applications.
The Israeli Navy is using Protector USVs today. They are reliable, fast, highly maneuverable, allowing them to conduct a wide range of missions, including patrols of the coast, without endangering navy personnel.
See also