The technology – developed as part of the UK’s Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed (MAST) 13 project – was installed on a 13m unmanned craft designed to manoeuvre around a naval task force whilst under remote control. The systems installed onboard the craft can be used to identify threats such as mines or collect intelligence on enemy ships.
The equipment was put through its paces in a demonstration at the Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition and conference in London, where it ‘protected’ HMS Argyll in a harbour force protection operation.
Installed on a PAC 24 rigid inflatable boat, the technology enabled the craft to navigate and detect possible threats and feeding information back to HMS Argyll. At 7.8m in length, the RIB has a speed of 38knots and can operate for up to 45 hours at patrol speed or 100 nautical miles in pursuit mode, while being controlled remotely or operating autonomously. Its integration with a warship has potential applications across a range of missions, including anti-piracy operations, border control, intelligence gathering, maritime security and force protection.
The P24 RIB, designed and built by BAE Systems, is the standard sea boat for the Royal Navy and is used widely across its surface fleet. It is also used extensively by the Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Ministry of Defence Police and by allied navies and by overseas security forces. The new autonomous capability has the potential to be retrofitted to existing P24 RIBs.
The version of the autonomous RIB on show at DSEI was modified for optional unmanned operation and fitted with additional sensors and effectors including a high-resolution optical and thermal camera and Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) system, capable of emitting warning messages at distance. It is also equipped with automated navigational decision-making technologies, freeing up operators to focus on mission critical information from afar.
The technology installed on the RIB has pre-programmed ‘intelligent behaviours’ to position itself appropriately in relation to a potential threat. However, its planned weapons system, developed by MSI Systems with BAE Systems, remains firmly under a human operator’s control, ensuring that while the vessel can operate and navigate autonomously, there will always be a highly-trained operator, making the final decision on engagement and targeting.