The Royal Navy will begin conducting trials of a new unmanned craft to be used for general support duties.
The vessel is a modified variant of a 7.8-metre rigid inflatable boat (RIB) supplied by BAE Systems. Numerous examples of the RIB are already in service with the Royal Navy, performing diverse duties such as search and rescue (SAR), at-sea interdictions, and ship-to-shore transport of equipment and personnel.
The navy expects that the modified RIB will be capable of performing the same duties even without an onboard crew.
While the boat’s hull and propulsion system remain the same, the control system and sensors have been reconfigured to allow for autonomous movement. For instance, a human operator should be able to give the unmanned craft generic tasking, and the boat will decide for itself how it will carry out that task.
The RIB will begin trials within this month, to be followed by integration into a front-line warship’s combat and navigation systems later in the year. The navy said the results of the latter trials will determine whether the UK will invest in a fleet of such craft or just a few for specific missions.
The project has an estimated value of £3 million (US$3.72 million).
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