Defence company BAE Systems has successfully completed trials of an unmanned boat.

The boat has been designed for remote surveillance and high-speed exploration and was tested for the first time on a site near Portsmouth Naval Base.

According to BAE, the trials could help kick-start the widespread use of autonomous naval technology within a decade, allowing remote surveillance without exposing sailors to possible harm.

The modified boat is capable of operating autonomously for up to 12 hours at a time on either a pre-planned route or via remote control, reaching speeds in excess of 38 knots (44 miles per hour). The technology can be fitted to Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIB), which are already used extensively by the Royal Navy.

BAE Systems unmanned boat

Information about the unmanned boat

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.

“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.”

BAE Systems unmanned boat

BAE Systems unmanned boat on water

Next on the agenda is to create the sensor suite before ensuring integration with the combat management system on the parent ship. The boats will be able to operate up to 40km away from their parent ship. As well as being completely autonomous they can also be remote-controlled by crew on land, from the ship via a hand-held controller or piloted as usual.

The technology can be added to the manned Pacific 24 RIB already deployed across Type 23 Frigates and Type 45 Destroyers. These boats will also go on to the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers once they enter service.

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