A major milestone in the Royal Navy’s use of autonomous vessels in future operations has been reached during recent trials in Plymouth.
In a first for the navy, warship HMS Argyll successfully managed to control an uncrewed Pacific 24 rigid inflatable boat (RIB) while sailing at sea.
The week-long tests, held by the navy’s innovation experts NavyX and industry partners BAE Systems, saw the Type 23 frigate take command of the RIB while it zipped along the water.
The boat’s onboard cameras and sensors gave constant feeds to Argyll, with a temporary operating centre set up in the ship’s hangar.
But in another first, the RIB’s control system was also integrated into the ship’s Ops Room meaning it could be controlled and commanded from the depths of the frigate.
As well as operating the Pac24 from up to 10 miles away, the ship was able to successfully send instructions to the boat for it to carry out autonomously such as conducting basic missions, identifying targets on the water and cueing its camera and remote weapon station to tracked targets when operated by the trials team.
Lieutenant Commander Rob Manson, trials lead for NavyX, said:
For HMS Argyll, it was a chance for the ship’s company to see how an autonomous RIB could be used on deployment and its advantages.
While off Plymouth, it was able to conduct reconnaissance and show how it could counter potential threats.
Lt Keaton Leyland-Jones, a warfare office on Argyll, said:
For safety reasons, the Pac24 had sailors on board but was controlled remotely from Argyll throughout the trials.