BAE to integrate robotic boat with Royal Navy warship
This week at London's Docklands, BAE Systems will demonstrate an Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) that can fully integrate with the combat systems of a Royal Navy warship. Part of the DSEI 2019 international defense and security event, a robotic Pacific 24 Rigid Inflatable Boat (P24 RIB) will link to the combat management and sensor system of the Type 26 frigate HMS Argyl to show how such a craft can extend the ship's capabilities.
The idea of using USVs to augment naval forces has been around for some time. Many vital missions, like anti-piracy operations, border control, intelligence gathering, maritime security, and force protection, are often boring, dangerous, and expensive in terms of both money and manpower. By handing over some of these tasks to autonomous vessels, the hope is to not only free up sailors for more important work but also to extend the power of a warship comparable to the way helicopters did in the 1960s.
For this week's demonstration, BAE is using its 7.8-m-long (25.6-ft) P24 RIB, which can do 38 knots (44 mph, 70 km/h) and has an endurance of 45 hrs at patrol speed. Already a standard craft with the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and Ministry of Defence Police, it's been modified by BAE, the Navy, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, and autonomous systems supplier L3Harris with an onboard robotic system for unmanned operations, new sensors, a high-resolution optical and thermal camera, and a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) system that can send warning messages over a distance.
According to BAE, the robotic boat, which took part in the Navy's Unmanned Warrior exercise in 2016, has a wide range of preprogrammed behaviors and can make its own navigational decisions without human intervention. It can also respond to hostile threats, though its future weapons system being developed by the company and MSI Systems still requires a human operator to actually pull the trigger.
The demonstration will take place on the Thames, where the craft will conduct high-speed exercises meant to mimic real-world missions, such as force protection, threat intercept and chase missions. As it does so, it will maintain a secure communications link with HMS Argyl and her systems.
“This is much more than an Unmanned Surface Vessel demonstration for the Royal Navy," says Commander Sean Trevethan, Royal Navy Fleet Robotics Officer. "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."
Source: BAE Systems