UK’s longest-serving Type 23 frigate conducts autonomous boat trials in a navy’s first

The Royal Navy’s Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll has successfully conducted autonomous boat trials by managing to control an uncrewed Pacific 24 rigid inflatable boat (RIB) while sailing at sea.

The week-long tests, held by the navy’s innovation experts NavyX and industry partners BAE Systems, saw the Type 23 frigate take command of the RIB while it zipped along the water.

Photo by: Royal Navy

The boat’s onboard cameras and sensors gave constant feeds to Argyll, with a temporary operating centre set up in the ship’s hangar.

Photo by: Royal Navy

But in another first, the RIB’s control system was also integrated into the ship’s Ops Room meaning it could be controlled and commanded from the depths of the frigate.

As well as operating the Pac24 from up to 10 miles away, the ship was able to successfully send instructions to the boat for it to carry out autonomously such as conducting basic missions, identifying targets on the water and cueing its camera and remote weapon station to tracked targets when operated by the trials team.

For safety reasons, the Pac24 had sailors on board but was controlled remotely from Argyll throughout the trials.

Photo by: Royal Navy

“This was a great first step in integrating fully autonomous vessels into Royal Navy warships. What we managed to do with these trials was prove that systems such as those to control autonomous and uncrewed technology can be successfully introduced into our current Fleet,” Lieutenant Commander Rob Manson, trials lead for NavyX, said.

For HMS Argyll, it was a chance for the ship’s company to see how an autonomous RIB could be used on deployment and its advantages.

While off Plymouth, it was able to conduct reconnaissance and show how it could counter potential threats.

“Argyll may be the oldest frigate in the fleet, but numerous capability upgrades have allowed us to press ahead at the cutting-edge of maritime warfare. Autonomous technology such as the Pac24 proves this, enhancing our versatility and improving our ability to conduct crucial missions, gaining advantage over the aggressor,” Lt Keaton Leyland-Jones, a warfare office on Argyll, commented.

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