The UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has trialled an autonomous maritime asset protection system which could be used to safeguard high value assets and critical infrastructure.
Working with the Royal Navy, industry partners and the US Naval Undersea Warfare Centre, Dstl conducted the research to improve detection, tracking, classification, and defeat capabilities against surface and subsurface threats. It combined the use of autonomous systems alongside traditional vessels.
Dstl also worked collaboratively with an industry consortium comprising QinetiQ, SeeByte, L3 Harris ASV and Thales, to develop a concept demonstrator based on open architectures and autonomous systems.
This demonstrator was tested in a synthetic environment to ensure the viability of the concept before experimentation during a two week trial in Portland Harbour in October. This trial featured Dstl’s containerised system and the Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed vessel MAST-13.
Different levels of autonomy were evaluated, Dstl said this enabled a better assessment of the role that maritime autonomous systems can play in protecting vulnerable assets, while also furthering understanding of the current maturity of the technology.
The trial successfully demonstrated end-to-end autonomy with the remote operation of a long-range acoustic device and firing of a vessel arrestor system with the aim to stop a suspect craft.
Dstl programme manager, Alasdair Gilchrist, said: “The research showed the benefit of integrating multiple sensors, fixed and on uncrewed vessels (UXVs), into a common tactical picture to aid command decisions.
“We have progressed maritime Artificial Intelligence/machine learning by developing apps that enable multiple UXVs to be command and controlled from a single operator to protect assets.
“We have also developed algorithms to autonomously control and launch non-lethal effectors from uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) to deter aggressors and protect our valuable maritime assets.”
Future trials are planned which look to stress the system with the aim of assessing robustness. There will also be rescheduled interoperability tests with the US that were impacted by Covid-19.