BAE Systems has announced that it will be performing demonstrations at the DSEI 2019 tradeshow in London that will highlight how Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs) can be fully integrated with Royal Navy warships, in order to extend the operational range of the USVs and warships and reduce risk to Navy personnel. The demonstrations will be carried out in conjunction with the Royal Navy, Dstl and autonomous systems supplier L3Harris.
The unmanned vessel chosen for the demonstrations is a Pacific 24 Rigid Inflatable Boat (P24 RIB), a 7.8-metre long vessel with a speed of 38 knots that can patrol for up to 45 hours or operate in pursuit mode for 100 nautical miles. It is the standard boat for the Royal Navy and is used widely by the Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Ministry of Defence Police and by allied navies and overseas security forces.
The P24 RIB has been modified for remote control or autonomous operation, including integration of automated navigational decision-making technologies, and has been fitted with additional sensors and payloads including a high-resolution optical and thermal camera and Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) system. For the demonstrations, it will be integrated with the combat system of HMS Argyll, a Type 23 frigate. The linked vessels will carry out a series of exercises mimicking real world scenarios such as force protection, threat intercept and chase missions.
One of the challenges involved in maturing the technology for operational use has been ensuring a secure connection between the combat management and sensor system on board the warship and the systems on the RIB. Early trials have been undertaken in collaboration with the Royal Navy’s new autonomy and lethality accelerator programme, Navy X.
Cdr Sean Trevethan, Royal Navy Fleet Robotics Officer, said: “This is much more than an Unmanned Surface Vessel demonstration for the Royal Navy. What we are doing is the first step in exploiting system architecture in a complex warship to integrate an unmanned system into the ship. This ensures the system and its payload fully contribute to the warfighting capability of the ship.
“Ultimately this will change the way we fight – through integrated command and control – and lead to development of new tactics, techniques and procedures. The P24 RIB is well known to the Royal Navy and has a lot of potential in terms of its payload and deployment as an unmanned system. The Royal Navy is excited at the prospect of developing this capability.”
Mike Woods, Chief Technologist for BAE Systems’ Maritime Services business, commented: “This technology represents a huge step forward in the interaction between human and machine, combining sophisticated autonomous technology with human capabilities to overcome many of the challenges faced in difficult conditions at sea.
“For the past four years we have been working in collaboration to develop this ‘first of its kind’ technology. We are proud to have matured autonomous maritime technology significantly, positioning the UK as a forward thinker in this unique space and providing a crucial advantage where it counts.”