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June 2, 2021

Royal Navy tests control of autonomous boat from land

The MADFOX vessel was controlled using a laptop and tablet at the waterfront command post at Browndown Beach.

The Royal Navy has tested the navigation of an autonomous stealth boat in Solent, controlling it remotely from land for the first time.

The autonomous boat, called MADFOX (MAritime Demonstrator For Operational eXperimentation), was controlled by two sailors using a laptop and tablet at the waterfront command post at Browndown Beach in Gosport.

This trial was undertaken to test the practice of operating a boat from ashore and using it to monitor shipping in Solent from afar.

MADFOX has so far been controlled from on board. However, given the complexities of the future missions, the Royal Navy has now operated the boat from range to equip itself with new skills and address challenges.

The sailors learnt to interpret the live feed derived from the boat’s sensors and cameras, including a high-resolution zoom that can identify people on ships from a distance.

MADFOX had staff aboard as a safety precaution, although its movements and speed were all controlled by personnel ashore.

The command node on land enabled an over-watch of the trial area.

In the future, it is expected that the node will be integrated into ships such as next-generation Type 26 and Type 31 frigates.

Furthermore, this unmanned boat and similar other systems could be deployed in Royal Navy ships in future operations such as force protection to surveillance.

Commander Antony Crabb, who is in charge of NavyX, the specialist team charged with harnessing the latest tech for use by the Fleet, said: “It might seem like remote-controlled boats on a park lake, however, this is a significant milestone as navy personnel gain confidence in operating at speed and dislocated from the vessel.

“It’s not what we are used to after years standing watch on board ships of the current Fleet. Lessons from these recent serials will be used to build ever more complex serials ahead of integration into Operational Experimentation activity where the project will add tactical value, helping to shape the blended Fleet of tomorrow.”

This investment in the autonomous boat comes as the Royal Navy and Royal Marines intend to expand their use of unmanned vessels.

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