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bae systems autonomous boat

Autonomous navy boat can patrol for 10 days without human operator

Image credit: bae systems

An autonomous boat has been developed by UK defence firm BAE Systems that is designed to complement naval military operations and can patrol for up to 10 days at a time.

BAE said the first trials of the boat have been successful and it will allow navies “to go beyond the limits of human endurance” as unmanned vessels are able to travel further, for longer and to more inhospitable environments.

The boat has pre-programmed intelligent behaviours that allow it to position itself appropriately if approaching a potential threat.

While it is capable of navigating autonomously, its onboard weapons system can only be operated by a human controller, albeit remotely, ensuring that the final decision on engagement and targeting is made by a human.

The boat, which has been called the ‘autonomous Pacific 950 Rigid Inflatable Boat’ (RIB), has been used to develop new technologies designed to make naval missions faster, easier and safer for sailors.

bae systems autonomous boat

Image credit: bae systems

The technology has been designed to be retrofitted to existing RIBs, such as BAE Systems’ Pacific 24, which is currently in service with the Royal Navy across its surface fleet.

The vessel can operate for up to 10 days at ‘patrol speed’ or 300 nautical miles in pursuit mode, reaching speeds of up to 45 knots, while either being remote controlled or on a semi-autonomous mission.

BAE envisages that the vessel could be used across a range of missions, including anti-piracy operations, border control, persistent intelligence gathering, maritime security and force protection.

Mike Woods, chief technologist for BAE Systems’ Maritime Services business, said: “This technology represents a huge step forward in the interaction between human and machine, combining sophisticated autonomous technology with human capabilities to overcome many of the challenges faced in difficult conditions at sea.

“The boat keeps sailors out of harm’s way while allowing them to respond to the increasingly varied, often unpredictable scenarios they face every day, and aids faster decision-making in complex and ambiguous situations.”

Further work will be conducted by BAE in the coming months to prove the technology can be integrated with existing naval ship combat management systems. The RIB will also undertake further trials, including participation in Nato Exercise REPMUS, to be held in Portugal later this year.

Woods added: “For the past four years we have been working in collaboration to develop this ‘first of its kind’ technology. We are proud to have matured autonomous maritime technology significantly, positioning the UK as a forward thinker in this unique space and providing a crucial advantage where it counts.”

In April the UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson announced that the government would provide a £75m fund for the Royal Navy to develop more lethal and autonomous technologies.

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