The new vehicles designed by BAE Systems will be able to reach speeds of up to 44mph

Autonomous drone boats developed for Royal Navy

A drone boat capable of autonomously operating for 12 hours is being developed by BAE Systems.

The modified rigid inflatable boats will be able to travel in excess of 38 knots (44mph) and operate up to 40km away from their parent ship.

The unmanned vehicles are being developed for the Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier, enabling high-risk manoeuvres to be carried out while keeping sailors out of harm's way.

The boat’s ability to operate autonomously is achieved through a complex array of sensors, including a navigation radar, 360-degree panoramic infra-red camera array and laser range finder, which offer operators a detailed picture within a significant range of the vessel.

BAE Systems director Les Gregory said: "This technology delivers an extremely robust and fast-moving unmanned boat that is able to perform a number of surveillance and reconnaissance roles, even when operating at high speed or in choppy water.

"BAE Systems has a wealth of experience in the development and integration of unmanned systems.

"The successful demonstration highlights the enhanced capability this technology offers. While other programmes are primarily designed for larger, slower boats to tackle mine counter-measure scenarios, this system provides an extremely manoeuvrable multi-role vessel."

The technology is being developed in BAE Systems' Portsmouth research centre, in partnership with unmanned craft specialists ASV.

The vehicles are designed to be fitted to existing Pacific 24 Ribs which will be used by Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers and are already deployed with the Navy's Type 23 frigates and Type 45 destroyers.

As well as being completely autonomous, they can also be remote-controlled by crew on land or from the ship using a hand-held controller, as well as being helmed manually.

Dan Hook, managing director for ASV, said: "The algorithms we're developing with BAE Systems allow the boat to perform complex missions and navigate through waters avoiding collisions.

"This gives it the flexibility and sophistication to operate in a number of different tactical roles, whether it's patrolling areas of interest, providing surveillance and reconnaissance ahead of manned missions or protecting larger ships in the fleet."

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