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UK MoD Maritime Testbed In Thames Trials

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Tidal Thames Trials for Defence’s New Maritime Testbed

(Source: Royal Navy; issued Sept 05, 2016)

The UK Ministry of Defence has begun testing the Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed (MAST) unmanned surface vessel in the Tidal Thames. It is intended to test technologies and evolve tactics for employing maritime autonomous systems. (UK MoD photo)

Today the UK’s Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed (MAST), an unmanned surface vessel (USV) based on the innovative BLADERUNNER hull shape, has undergone trials in the Tidal Thames.

MAST is being developed by Portchester-based ASV Ltd, under research funding from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), providing a testbed to host a range of new technologies which allows the Ministry of Defence to test and evolve tactics for employing maritime autonomous systems.

The 32ft MAST is one of over 40 Autonomous Systems taking part in Unmanned Warrior 2016 this autumn, off West Wales and NW Scotland and the Western Isles.

In conjunction with industry and international partners, the Royal Navy has created an exciting opportunity for engineers and scientists to demonstrate state of the art technology during Unmanned Warrior, the biggest event of its kind, and explore the ideas that will help shape the future of Naval Warfare for decades to come. It is linked with the regular Joint Warrior fleet Exercise and aims to test systems in an operational environment.

Admiral Sir Philip Jones, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, said:

“The growing scale of Unmanned Warrior is a clear demonstration of the Royal Navy’s ambition to lead and win through technological innovation. Unmanned maritime systems will change how we operate, but they’re just the start. Our pursuit of new technologies and ideas – from big data to 3D-printing – will ensure we remain one of the most capable and successful navies in the world.”

MAST is a unique UK designed and built craft capable of reaching high speeds on which high speed autonomy can be investigated. Various levels of autonomy include basic remote control up to autonomous navigation. The craft is designed to operate autonomously in an unmanned mode, sensing other vessels in the immediate vicinity and avoiding them in a safe manner. The avoidance algorithms are designed to comply with internationally mandated collision regulations. When operating on a busy waterway (such as the Thames), the craft is operated with a coxswain on board ready to take control.

It does not carry weapons, but is designed to explore autonomous capabilities and support non-lethal surveillance and reconnaissance roles.

The work is funded through Dstl (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory), who conduct research on behalf of the Royal Navy (and the other UK armed forces). The work is being conducted by civilian manufacturers ASV Ltd & Roke Manor Research, with support from Cambridge Pixels, Seebyte and Chess Dynamics.

Fleet Robotics Officer Commander Peter Pipkin said:

“This is a chance to take a great leap forward in Maritime Systems – not to take people out of the loop but to enhance everything they do, to extend our reach, our look, our timescales, our efficiency using intelligent and manageable robotics at sea.”

Vince Dobbin, Sales and Marketing Director, ASV Global said:

“ASV Global has been working in the maritime autonomy industry for many years. We have a long-standing partnership with Dstl, part of which includes working on the Bladerunner vessel. Our role in this programme has involved developing the autonomous capabilities of this fast vessel. This capability will be demonstrated at Unmanned Warrior in October showcasing the UK’s position at the forefront of delivering this revolutionary technology”.

MAST is linked with the regular Joint Warrior fleet Exercise and aims to test systems in an operational environment, and will be taking in part in Unmanned Warrior 2016 in October.

The move from the battleship to the aircraft carrier demonstrated that success in the maritime domain is better obtained via multiple off board systems (aircraft) at distance from a host platform (a carrier) than from capabilities in individual units (battleships).

Technology has reached a point where the limitation requiring a human in the off board system has in many cases been removed. Maritime Autonomous Systems now have a revolutionary potential, offering great benefits for operational effectiveness and efficiency.

In Oct 14, the First Sea Lord announced that Exercise JOINT WARRIOR 16 would be the centre piece of a demonstration of unmanned systems, with various industries being invited to demonstrate in a relevant setting – this will be known as Unmanned Warrior 2016 (UW16).

Specific business opportunities are not sought or created by this initiative.

Maritime Capability (a division of Naval Command) published an announcement in the Defence Contracts Bulletin (DCB) inviting industry to express interest. Some 100 were received and these were distilled into 5 themes.

The themes are Antisubmarine Warfare & Training, Mine Counter Measures, Hydrography, ISTAR (mainly reconnaissance) and Command and Control. These were endorsed by the MAS Sponsor Group and a MoD lead officer, from Navy Command HQ, The Maritime Warfare Centre or The Defence Scientific and Technology Laboratory, was appointed for each.

ASV Global is a world leader in autonomous marine technology. The company designs, builds and operates ASVs on a global basis. Products are available for lease and purchase alongside comprehensive support and training packages. In just five years, ASV Global has produced more than 80 vehicles and developed more than 30 different payload packages. The company has also converted numerous existing vessels to operate autonomously. With offices in the UK and US, ASV Global’s 75 employees support commercial, scientific, and military clients across the globe.