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The performance of mobile ad-hoc networks (MANET) is related to the efficiency of the routing protocols in adapting to frequently changing network topology and link status. This paper addresses the issue by comparing the relative performance of three key ad-hoc routing protocols: Destination-sequenced Distance Vector (DSDV), Ad-hoc Ondemand Distance Vector (AODV) and Optimized Link State Routing (OLSR). The protocols are tested based on two scenarios, namely, tactical networks for ships and sensor-based network nodes. Four performance metrics were measured by varying the maximum speed of mobile hosts, network size and traffic load, to assess the routing capability and protocol efficiency. The simulation results indicate that AODV performs better than OSLR and DSDV in the first scenario. Although OLSR also performed relatively well, the associated high routing overhead is the dominant reason for not choosing it. On the other hand, OLSR emerged as the protocol of choice for sensor networks, where the high routing overhead is counteracted by consistently better performance in all other metrics. Due to the slow evolution of the sensor network topology, OLSR performed satisfactorily for best effort traffic but needed subtle adjustments to balance between latency and bandwidth to meet the requirements of delay-sensitive applications.