Navy

Royal Navy first as HMS Argyll conducts autonomous boat trials

The frigate controlled an uncrewed Pacific 24 rigid inflatable boat from up to 10 miles away off the coast of Plymouth.

The Royal Navy has reached a major milestone in its use of autonomous boats for future operations. 

In a first for the Senior Service, Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll successfully controlled an uncrewed Pacific 24 (Pac24) rigid inflatable boat (RIB) while sailing at sea.

Week-long tests, held by the Navy's innovation experts NavyX and industry partners BAE Systems, saw the ship take command of the RIB off the coast of Plymouth.

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The Pac24 was operated up to 10 miles away from HMS Argyll.

The ship was able to successfully send instructions to the boat to autonomously carry out tasks like basic missions, identifying targets and cueing its camera and remote weapon station when operated by the trials team.

Lieutenant Commander Rob Manson, trials lead for NavyX, said the tests were a "great first step in integrating fully autonomous vessels into Royal Navy warships".

Milestone Navy trials with autonomous Pacific24 RIB with HMS Argyll off Plymouth coast 141021 CREDIT MOD
For safety reasons, the Pac24 had sailors on board but was controlled remotely from HMS Argyll throughout the tests (Picture: MOD).

"What we managed to do with these trials was prove that systems such as those to control autonomous and uncrewed technology can be successfully introduced into our current fleet. 

"Operating with the Pac24 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."

The Pac24's cameras and sensor gave constant feeds to Argyll during the trials, with a temporary operating centre set up in the ship's hangar.

And in another first, the boat's control system was also integrated into the ship's Ops Room.

The boat demonstrated how it can carry out reconnaissance and could be used to counter potential threats, the Navy said.

For safety reasons, the Pac24 had sailors on board but was controlled remotely from HMS Argyll throughout the tests.