VESSEL REVIEW | Royal Australian Navy debuts fast autonomous boat

Photo: Australian Defence Force/POIS Justin Brown
Photo: Australian Defence Force/POIS Justin Brown

A new autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) recently entered service with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and has already begun undergoing a series of operational tests.

Built by Melbourne, Florida-based unmanned technology company Maritime Tactical Systems (MARTAC), the catamaran craft is capable of fully autonomous and semi-autonomous operations, though there is onboard space for two human operators plus safety personnel. Numerous examples of this same ASV are already in service with the US Navy while this is Australia's initial purchase of this type of unmanned craft for defence applications.

<em>Photo: Australian Defence Force/LSIS Ryan Tascas</em>
Photo: Australian Defence Force/LSIS Ryan Tascas

The RAN's new MARTAC ASV has a length of 11.5 metres, a beam of 3.3 metres, a draught of only 0.46 metres, and a displacement of approximately three tonnes. Two 223kW diesel outboard engines propel the craft to a burst speed of 80 knots while a cruising speed of 25 knots will enable it to cover 500 nautical miles. Operations are possible even under conditions of Sea State seven with wave heights of up to 12 metres.

The ASV itself is capable of deployment from and recovery aboard larger unmanned surface and subsurface vessels, ensuring enhanced operational flexibility. A wide range of surface and subsea sensors with a maximum total displacement of 2,040 kilograms can be fitted on the craft. In its present configuration in Australian service, the ASV has an electronics and sensors suite that includes a Furuno radar and two rotating thermal cameras. The radar and one thermal camera are mounted on a rollbar while the second thermal camera is installed near the stern ramp.

<em>Photo: Australian Defence Force/POIS Justin Brown</em>
Photo: Australian Defence Force/POIS Justin Brown

The MARTAC ASV was unveiled during the recently concluded RAN-led, joint Australian-UK-US Exercise Autonomous Warrior 2022, a series of exercises for testing new technologies that are designed to perform a broad range of maritime security missions.

The RAN will operate the MARTAC ASV primarily as a test and experimentation platform along with a smaller electrically-powered ASV that was also supplied by the same builder. Both ASV types can operate together with the smaller craft capable of deployment/recovery via the larger vessel's own stern ramp. The RAN expects that the larger MARTAC ASV will operate as a carrier vessel for long-range transits while the smaller ASV, which features low-observable technology, will be utilised in high-threat environments.

<em>Photo: Australian Defence Force/LSIS Ryan Tascas</em>
Photo: Australian Defence Force/LSIS Ryan Tascas
11.5-metre Autonomous Surface Vehicle
Type of vessel:ASV – Naval
Owner:Royal Australian Navy
Builder:Maritime Tactical Systems, USA
Length overall:11.5 metres
Beam:3.3 metres
Draught:0.46 metres
Displacement:3.0 tonnes
Main engines:2 x outboards, each 223 kW
Maximum speed:80 knots
Cruising speed:25 knots
Range:500 nautical miles
Night vision:2
Type of fuel:Diesel

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Baird Maritime / Work Boat World