Armed and unmanned, the Navy robot boat that fears no enemy

·2 min read
The Pac24 boat moves through the water, without a human driver present - Ministry of Defence
The Pac24 boat moves through the water, without a human driver present - Ministry of Defence

A robot boat that can travel 10 miles autonomously has been launched from a Royal Navy warship for the first time.

HMS Argyll, a Type 23 frigate, successfully controlled the crewless Pacific 24 rigid inflatable boat (RIB) while at sea in Plymouth.

The boat’s onboard cameras and sensors gave feedback to Argyll, with a temporary operating centre set up in the ship’s hangar. 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.

The Navy said the RIB was operated from up to 10 miles away and that the ship was able to successfully send instructions to the boat, such as conducting basic missions, identifying targets on the water and cueing its camera and weapons to tracked targets.

The Pac24 rigid inflatable boat is seen in the water alongside HMS Argyll - Ministry of Defence
The Pac24 rigid inflatable boat is seen in the water alongside HMS Argyll - Ministry of Defence

Lieutenant Commander Rob Manson, trials lead for NavyX, who held the week-long tests in conjunction with BAE Systems, said: “Operating with the Pac 24 while at sea showed that in the future these vessels have the potential to deploy with current frigates and destroyers and be used for a range of operational tasks.”

A Navy source said that enabling a RIB to operate autonomously showed that it could “be useful for situations where risk of life” was possible.

They said one scenario in which the RIB might be deployed would be where a fire on a ship needed to be put out, but it would be risky to send people close to the fire to contain it.

“Risking human life reduces significantly and you can drive a boat closer to an object,” the source said. “You can put an autonomous RIB in more hazardous situations because the risk to human life is lessened.”

In another first, a Navy air defence destroyer’s helicopter has fired a new missile aimed at protecting the UK's aircraft carriers from swarm attacks by small boats.

HMS Defender's Wildcat helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron firing the Martlet lightweight missile during operations in the Pacific Ocean - Ministry of Defence/PA
HMS Defender's Wildcat helicopter from 815 Naval Air Squadron firing the Martlet lightweight missile during operations in the Pacific Ocean - Ministry of Defence/PA

Portsmouth-based HMS Defender’s Wildcat helicopter fired the Martlet lightweight missile during operations in the Pacific Ocean.

The warship is part of the deployment to the Far East by the UK Carrier Strike Group, headed by the carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The target in the test firing was an inflatable known in the service as the “big red tomato".

It is the first time the system has been tested while on operation by the helicopters of the Yeovilton-based 815 Naval Air Squadron.

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