Royal Navy developing 'Drone boat'


A high-tech "drone" boat capable of being operated for 12-hour autonomous and unmanned surveillance missions is being developed for the Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier. 

The modified rigid inflatable boats (Ribs) will be able to travel in excess of 38 knots (44mph) and operate up to 40km away from their parent ship, enabling high-risk manoeuvres to be carried out while keeping sailors out of harm's way.

The technology, created in Portsmouth by BAE Systems in partnership with unmanned craft specialists ASV, is designed to be fitted to existing Pacific 24 Ribs which will be used by Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers and is already deployed with the Navy's Type 23 frigates and Type 45 destroyers.

Les Gregory, product and training services director at BAE Systems, said: "This technology delivers an extremely robust and fast-moving unmanned boat that is able to perform a number of surveillance and reconnaissance roles, even when operating at high speed or in choppy water.

"BAE Systems has a wealth of experience in the development and integration of unmanned systems.

"The successful demonstration highlights the enhanced capability this technology offers. While other programmes are primarily designed for larger, slower boats to tackle mine counter-measure scenarios, this system provides an extremely manoeuvrable multi-role vessel."

Underpinning the system's ability to operate autonomously is its complex array of sensors, including a navigation radar, 360 degree panoramic infra-red camera array and laser range finder which offer operators a detailed picture within a significant range of the vessel.

As well as being completely autonomous, they can also be remote-controlled by crew on land, from the ship by a hand-held controller or piloted as usual.

Dan Hook, managing director for ASV, said: "The algorithms we're developing with BAE Systems allow the boat to perform complex missions and navigate through waters avoiding collisions.

"This gives it the flexibility and sophistication to operate in a number of different tactical roles, whether it's patrolling areas of interest, providing surveillance and reconnaissance ahead of manned missions, or protecting larger ships in the fleet."