BAE Systems and the Royal Navy announced a £3.2 million (about $4 million) autonomous boat contract that will improve the capabilities of the Royal Navy while protecting the sailor’s lives.
BAE Systems’ crewless Pacific 24 (P24) – not made from scratch, but is converted from Unmanned Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) – is able to execute its own missions without crew and be run from a warship. At 7.8 meters long, the crewless Pacific 24 boat has a speed of 38 knots (70 km/h) and can operate for up to 45 hours at patrol speed or 100 nautical miles in pursuit mode, while being controlled remotely or operating autonomously.
The project is currently at an advanced stage of development, the P24 unmanned boat, has a built-in robotic control system, advanced sensors, a high-resolution optical and thermal camera, a long-range acoustic speaker, and a device for audio communication and distance warning.
At the same time, the boat can be equipped with a weapon system – a remote-controlled module with a 12.7-mm machine gun, developed by MSI Defense Systems and BAE Systems. It will remain under the control of the operator, who will make the final decision on the use of weapons. Part of the equipment was developed by L3Harris and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).
According to BAE, autonomous tasks for P24 may include anti-piracy operations, border control, constant intelligence gathering, maritime security, and protection of military forces.
“The autonomous P24 is not just a step-change for the Royal Navy in unmanned operations, it also ensures we remain at the forefront of technological improvement and innovation,” said Lt Cdr Rob Manson, Navy X Requirements Manager. “While initial tasks are likely to be familiar to our Royal Navy crews who already operate manned P24 RIBs, the autonomous nature of this craft adds huge capability and flexibility. Additionally, this capability can be constantly improved, allowing continuous updates and capability upgrades, resulting in regular additions to the toolbox of our sailors and ships.”
BAE Systems and Navy X will continue to collaborate on the development of its first autonomous P24, which is carrying out a series of acceptance trials throughout 2020. Acceptance testing of the boat will end this year, after which the navy will decide on further upgrades or order a fleet of robotic boats to service future classes of warships.