Targeted at anti-piracy, border control, intelligence gathering and maritime security missions, the Pacific 950 is an autonomous boat that can operate alone for up to 10 days, or cover 300 nautical miles (556 km) at pursuit speed. Its built-in stabilized 12.7-mm weapons system, however, is human-operated.
The British Royal Navy has been experimenting for the last few years with integrating more and more autonomous vehicles into its fleets and mission planning, both as solo operators and as part of co-ordinated missions. We first saw the Pacific 950 unmanned rigid inflatable boat (RIB) as part of the Unmanned Warrior 2016 exercises off the coast of Scotland.
Last week BAE has now announced the completion of a series of trials proving the vehicle's capabilities, which include up to 10 days' worth of patrol-speed autonomy between refueling stops, or up to 300 nautical miles (556 km) at the boat's pursuit speed of 45 knots.
Its stabilized camera and thermal imaging systems allow it to undertake "complex, multiphase missions" while streaming information back to base in real time to broaden the awareness of marine operation commanders without the need to put sailors in harm's way.
One thing BAE will not put in autonomous hands is the weapons system, a 12.7-mm stabilized gun that offers the Pacific 950 offensive and defensive capabilities "firmly operated by a human hand" through remote control. Likewise, the entire boat can be put under remote control of desired, and the technology is designed to be retrofitted to other rigid inflatable boats if necessary.
Further testing will get underway in the coming months to test the autonomous boat's ability to integrate with other existing combat management systems, and the Pacific 950 will have another outing later in the year in Portugal, where NATO will be running its REPMUS exercise.
Source: BAE Systems
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