The UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has undertaken research that aims to improve detection, tracking, classification and defeat capabilities against surface and subsurface threats to high-value assets and critical infrastructure, using autonomous systems alongside traditional systems. Dstl collaborated with the Royal Navy, the US Naval Undersea Warfare Centre, and an industry consortium comprising QinetiQ, SeeByte, L3 Harris ASV and Thales.
A concept demonstrator, based on open architectures and autonomous systems, was tested in a synthetic environment to ensure the viability of the concept before experimentation during a 2 week trial in Portland Harbour. The demonstrator used Dstl’s containerised system and the Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed USV (unmanned surface vessel) MAST-13.
Different levels of autonomy were evaluated, enabling a better assessment of the role that maritime autonomous systems can play in protecting vulnerable assets while also furthering understanding of the current maturity of the technology.
The trial successfully demonstrated end-to-end autonomy with the remote operation of a long range acoustic device and firing of a vessel arrestor system with the aim to stop a suspect craft. Future trials will look to stress the system with the aim to assess robustness while completing interoperability tests with the US that were impacted by COVID-19.
Alasdair Gilchrist MBE, Dstl Programme Manager, commented: “The research showed the benefit of integrating multiple sensors, fixed and on uncrewed vessels, into a common tactical picture to aid command decisions. We have progressed maritime Artificial Intelligence/machine learning by developing apps that enable multiple UXVs to be command and controlled from a single operator to protect assets.”
“We have also developed algorithms to autonomously control and launch non-lethal effectors from USVs to deter aggressors and protect our valuable maritime assets.”