UK Navy trials AI against missile threats during Formidable Shield exercise
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UK Navy trials AI against missile threats during Formidable Shield exercise

31 May 2021 (Last Updated May 31st, 2021 12:32)

Formidable Shield is a live-fire air and missile defence drill that involves participation of several ships and personnel.

UK Navy trials AI against missile threats during Formidable Shield exercise
Sailors in HMS Dragon’s operations room discuss a missile attack. Credit: © Crown Copyright.

The British Royal Navy is testing artificial intelligence (AI) at sea in a bid to defeat missile attacks, during air and missile defence exercise, ‘Formidable Shield’.

For the first time, the UK Navy is using AI software at sea as part of the exercise, which is primarily being held at the UK’s Hebrides Range in the Western Isles of Scotland.

A total of 15 ships, dozens of aircraft, and around 3,300 personnel are taking part in the drills.

The exercise is a live-fire air and missile defence drill and involves the participation of several ships and personnel.

The participating nations are Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the UK, and the US.

During the exercise, the naval platforms will detect, track and defend against an array of anti-ship and ballistic missiles.

Type 45 Destroyer HMS Dragon and two Type 23 frigates, Lancaster and Argyll, are the three Royal Navy warships taking part in the exercise.

HMS Lancaster and Dragon are trialling AI and machine learning (ML) applications (Startle and Sycoiea) as part of a glimpse into the ‘future of air defence at sea’.

Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) scientists and industry partners from Roke, CGI and BAE Systems are using the three-week exercise to test the ‘Startle’ and ‘Sycoiea’ systems.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “It’s vital that our brave and highly skilled Armed Forces stay ahead of the game for the security of the United Kingdom and our allies.

“The Royal Navy’s use of AI for the first time at sea is an important development in ensuring readiness to tackle threats we may face. I’m proud to see that two Scottish built Royal Navy vessels are at the heart of this exercise in the waters off the Hebrides.”

The Startle AI system is designed to ease the load on sailors monitoring the ‘air picture’ in the operations room. It provides live recommendations and alerts.

Meanwhile, the Sycoiea builds upon this with ‘Threat Evaluation Weapon’ assignment, identifying the nearest threat and advise on the best weapon to deal with.

Formidable Shield will run until 3 June and is being conducted by Naval Striking and Support Forces Nato on behalf of the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet.