The Royal Navy’s top officer lays out vision for unmanned surface vessels
LONDON – The head of the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy said his service planned to start small and scale up when it comes to autonomous surface vessels.
Adm. Tony Radakin told an audience earlier this month that the Royal Navy wasn’t planning, as yet, to pursue any large-format unmanned surface vessels on the scale of the U.S. Sea Hunter program, but said
“We’ve started using boats to follow an autonomy path,” Radakin said. “I think that feels to me more like the way we will introduce autonomy in terms of our surface ships. Because I think we will need the comfort of a mothership and those supporting boats operating from the mothership, and then I think it will grow in size.”
Radakin said the service plans to follow the commercial sector carefully and take advantage of advancements in autonomous technology developed privately.
“Like much of this, as the civilian community invests in autonomous ships, and we get the reliability, we’ll be investing further in that way,” he said.
Forging an unmanned future, however, is going to be key for the Navy in the future, he said.
“The piece that’s clear to me is the direction of travel,” he said. “And that’s the place where I think, as a Navy, we have to shift, and we have to expect to move much more quickly.”
The Royal Navy has launched its NavyX initiative to accelerate introduction of unmanned systems into the fleet. During the DSEI conference, the Type 23 Frigate Argyll controlled an experimental unmanned version of its rigid-hull inflatable boat, the PAC24, from the Argyll’s combat system.
“This is much more than an autonomous surface vessel demonstration for the Royal Navy,” said Cmdr. Sean Trevethan, Programme Director for NavyX in a statement. “What we are doing is the first step of 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 the development of new tactics, techniques and procedures.”
The Royal Navy teamed up with the Defence and Science Technology Laboratory, BAE and L3 Harris to work on the program.
The UK was among more than a dozen NATO nations to agree in 2018 to work together on the development of maritime unmanned systems aimed at combating the rising threat of Russian subs and the ever-present threat of mines.
In his speech at DSEI, Radakin pointed to securing the North Atlantic as a top priority for his tenure as first sea lord.
“Securing the North Atlantic is key to ensuring freedom of movement for the nuclear deterrent,” he said. “We need to continue to invest here so we can maintain and extend our advantage and fulfill our commitments to the nation and to our allies.”
To that end, the nations are looking increasingly to unmanned systems. The U.S. Sea Hunter program is being developed with the idea that it can tow sensors and communicate back with other Navy assets that can act on the intelligence. Other nations are looking at a similar concept of operations for unmanned systems.
NATO is staging an exercise off the Coast of Portugal that gathers dozens of robot systems for maritime uses, following up on the 2018 commitment.
Exercise REP (MUS) 19 is being held Sept. 11-19, according to a NATO news release.
About 800 service members and civilians from the Portuguese Navy, as well as Belgium, Italy, Turkey, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States, are participating in the exercise.
Source : David Larter Link to Author