The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Royal Navy, along with industry partners, have conducted a series of trials involving an autonomous boat and Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll.
The trials tested the capability of BAE Systems’ Pacific 24 (PAC24) rigid inflatable boat (RIB) to integrate with a vessel.
During demonstrations at London’s Docklands, PAC24 transmitted imagery to the ship for the first time. The boat is partly funded by the Royal Navy’s Autonomous Hardware Accelerator NavyX.
The navy stated that the successful integration of the RIB with an active vessel indicates its ability for future missions.
The trials showed that the boat can be used to support anti-piracy operations, border control and force protection.
The PAC24 RIBs are the standard boats for the Royal Navy for use with aircraft carriers and offshore patrol vessels.
Participants in the trials included experts from BAE Systems, L3Harris, the Royal Navy, and the MoD’s Defence and Science Technology Laboratory (Dstl).
The series of trials also showcased the ability of the autonomous version of a PAC24 boat to drive sustainability and effectiveness.
NavyX programme director commander Sean Trevethan said: “This is much more than an autonomous surface vessel demonstration for the Royal Navy. What we are doing is the first step of 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 the development of new tactics, techniques and procedures.”
The navy is keen about the prospect of deploying the PAC24 as an unmanned system, Trevethan added.
The boat used in the trials at the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) 2019 event is a modified version designed for optional unmanned operations.
The 7.8m-long RIB can be operated in an autonomous mode or controlled remotely.
Earlier this week, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace unveiled the MAST-13 unmanned system for the protection of the navy’s future ships.