The growing importance of Maritime Autonomous Systems will characterise naval activity of the future, according to the Global Marine Trends 2030 (GMT 2030) report launched today.

Written and researched jointly by Lloyd’s Register, QinetiQ and Southampton University, the report looks at how future naval operations will be conducted, considering the application and integration of emerging technologies over the next two decades across maritime security, warfighting and humanitarian operations.

Networks of unmanned surface and underwater vessels are set to radically change the nature of maritime operations, and will become integral to naval capability programmes from mine hunting and augmenting submarine operations to supporting humanitarian efforts by delivering vital aid safely; however, many of the naval vessels in service in 2030 have already been commissioned, and were designed without these concepts in mind.

The principal challenge will therefore be the integration of these autonomous systems into current force structures and vessels.

The advancement in technology development is as much an opportunity for navies as it is a threat. Cyber and electronic are warfare technology development will continue at pace. Advanced materials and advanced manufacturing are key enabling technologies. Trials are already underway to conduct 3D printing on board ships, enabling the ‘printing’ of autonomous vehicles to suit specific mission needs in situ.

However, the proliferation of disruptive technologies driven by demand in major consumer electronics markets will increasingly empower malicious individuals, terrorists and non-state actors to utilise these technologies as weapons, posing an increasingly serious threat to sophisticated naval forces.

The growth in interconnected intelligent systems will require personnel to learn to work seamlessly with robotics systems. Crew members of the future will become ‘data warriors’ rather than equipment operators, creating the need for a new training paradigm and skill set. The potential for the command and control to be geographically displaced from the vessel will also require behavioural and cultural changes within the military communities.

QinetiQ Maritime managing director Sarah Kenny commented: "The rate at which technology is advancing is simply unprecedented. Navies now face the challenge of the capabilities of existing vessels whilst transitioning to new systems and concepts of operation to exploit and defend against both evolutionary and disruptive technologies.

"This will require significant levels of integration, testing and evaluation in order to ensure that they work as expected and are reliable and effective."

To download a copy of Global Marine Technology Trends 2030 please visit the company website.