Furuno & FLIR vs the pirates, IRIS


Pirates beware!  The Furuno DRS25A Ultra HD radar and FLIR Voyager II thermal camera shown being installed on the stern of the Maersk Alabama are all about keeping a sharp watch for attackers in small boats.  And there’s another pair at the bow, along with dual monitoring stations within the ship, and lots of redundancy built in…

Apparently Maersk anticipated revenge attacks after several pirates famously lost their lives in the Alabama’s lifeboat last April.  Furuno and FLIR came up with IRIS, an “Integrated Radar Imaging System” that you can see diagrammed below.  I’m told it took weeks to string all the necessary cabling through the ship, but also that it’s been working without problems since.  The concept is to have pairs of networked MFD12 displays and FLIR joystick controls on both the bridge and in the ship’s designated Safe Room. The system uses Furuno’s “distributed/isolated NMEA2000 backbone architecture” (note the GP330B GPS attached to the stern radar’s N2K port and there’s also an SC30 plugged into the bow DRS), so that if the pirates shoot out one radar system, the other will still provide position information to the rest of the network. (Look for a future entry on this architecture.)

Furuno FLIR IRIS system.jpg
Another feature of IRIS is that it can use NavNet 3D’s ARPA to automatically track targets with the FLIR camera.  And apparently Furuno and FLIR are working to make this and regular radar slaving (pan/tilt camera to target on command) a feature possible for regular NavNet 3D customers, and maybe even with less expensive M-Series camera systems.  And, by the way, the Maersk Alabama did get attacked again recently and apparently IRIS helped protect the ship, along with some armed guards.


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

11 Responses

  1. Richard says:

    While I accept that the likelihood of Somali pirates reading Panbo is slim to none…nonetheless is it sensible to post on the web the details of the systems which ships are using to protect themselves against piracy?
    At a minimum, this post discloses the details of the system redundancy (“Pirates: be sure to shoot out BOTH systems”) and exactly what the systems in question look like (“OK, here’s a photo of your targets. Look for one at the bow and the other at the stern”).
    I understand these systems are intended to give the ship early warning and that if pirates are within good shooting range of the sensors, the equipment will either have done its job or be useless.
    But still, disseminating this information, while unquestionably interesting to Panbo readers, only weakens security and is unwise.

  2. Capt. hank says:

    A couple of 50 cal’s should also be used for backup. Target the water-line and enjoy the show.

  3. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Wow. Six pieces in one week, we are going to get spoiled Ben.

  4. J. White says:

    Interesting article but I’m concerned that the enemy can read your very detailed information and find work-arounds. I’d rather you just let us and the enemy know that there is a system out there to stop them. That would give us confidence and perhaps the enemy some fear instead of information that might help them to figure out how to overcome it.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I dont think Furuno and FLIR will be selling the systems to the pirates anytime soon its not something you can pick off a bootleg market.
    plus you can bet thats not the only defenses they have

  6. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    J., I wouldn’t have posted this if I didn’t think the companies involved were OK with it. I presume that they believe, as I do, that in these times information like this simply shouldn’t be part of anyone’s security plan.

  7. Furuno Tech says:

    The point of sharing this information with Panbots is to show that both the Furuno Navnet 3D and FLIR Voyager thermal imaging cameras are consumer products!
    Specifically, the Navnet 3D DRS Radars and MFDs are in fact standard Furuno products that are available to anyone yet, their built-in resilience to failure through redundancy, IP networking, and unique features makes them very applicable as an IRIS Distant Early Warning(DEW)system for vessel’s like the Alabama. Ben’s reference to “Shooting Out” an antenna should be considered a metaphor to any kind of potential failure!! Every Navnet 3D system allows our customers to easily design and employ a reduncant, isolated NMEA2000 or NMEA0183 sensor architecture! In the event of a sensor failure or power supply failure of one NMEA2000 bus, the other one on the network will automatically take over after alerting the operator.
    Pirates already know to shoot at moving things when they are close enough as we have received returned radar arrays with bullet holes in them. If pirates are close enough to shoot at any radar or communication antennas with an assault rifle or RPG, the IRIS system has hopefully already done its job in providing the crew with extra time to prepare a defense, signal for help, employ evasive maneuvers, or implement their safety plan.
    Furuno/FLIR’s IRIS demonstrates how we are working together with Radar and Imaging Systems to leverage and complement both technologies!
    We are working hard to improve IRIS for surveillance and Navigation applications on much smaller vessels.
    Furuno Tech

  8. Anonymous says:

    We needed something like this 68 years ago!

  9. M says:

    Infosec was the term we used in the Navy. Just because information isn’t classified doesn’t mean the whole world should still know about it. Some things do need to be safeguarded, and I think this is one of those things. Pirates may not read Panbo, but we all know how information travels and the Internet. And for that matter, it’s not just pirates, they’re terrorist out there who will misuse this information as well. The safety of the ships crews should be priority. Like we used to say in Navy, “Loose lips sink ships.”

  10. Larry Brandt says:

    I don’t see a security concern at all in the posting of this information. Anyone savvy enough to get this off Panbo is savvy enough to simply look at the antenna/Flir arrays on the vessel itself and deduce their function.
    Personally, I think the above IRIS system plus an on-board civil helicopter modified as a gunship, on enough high value vessels, would solve the piracy problem, once and for all.

  11. Nick says:

    It seems that Furuno and/or Maersk line saw fit to release this, so why should Panbo feel the need to lay their own secrecy on top?
    Anyhow, given that this is a defensive system, mightn’t this info help keep ne’er-do-wells AWAY from the Alabama? Which is the point, after all, discouraging/preventing attacks and not setting up some sort of “pirate trap” (the Altanta is not a Q-Ship, to invoke some history).
    Most people who install a car alarm, to draw up another analogy, put on a little flashing light or window sticker. “Go somewhere else, I’m protected” is the message.

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