UK defense technology company BAE Systems has completed “one-of-a-kind” trials of the autonomous Pacific 950 rigid inflatable boat (RIB) demonstrator.
The company now says that the autonomous technology will allow navies to go beyond the limits of human endurance with unmanned vessels that can travel further, for longer and to more inhospitable environments.
Developed alongside industry experts from L3Harris and MSI Defence Systems, the P950 is equipped with automated navigational decision-making technologies, freeing up operators to focus on mission critical information from afar.
To enhance the capability of existing warships, 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, whilst either being remote controlled or on a semi-autonomous mission.
Its weapons system, developed by MSI Defence Systems with BAE Systems, remains under a human operator’s control, ensuring that whilst the vessel can operate and navigate autonomously, there will always be a highly-trained operator in the loop, making the final decision on engagement and targeting.
Missions include anti-piracy operations, border control, persistent intelligence gathering, maritime security and force protection.
First introduced on an experimental basis in 2015 and trialed as part of the Royal Navy’s Unmanned Warrior exercise in 2016, the work now completed, in collaboration with the UK defense ministry, has evolved the technology on the P950 demonstrator to an advanced state of readiness.
BAE says the next step will be to prove the technology can be integrated with existing naval ship combat management systems. This is set to occur in the coming months. The RIB will also undertake further trials, including participation in NATO exercise REPMUS, to be held in Portugal later this year.
“The boat keeps sailors out of harm’s way whilst 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,” Mike Woods, Chief Technologist for BAE Systems’ Maritime Services business, said.
“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.”