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British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace unveiled a new unmanned surface vessel (USV) at DSEI 2019 in London on 10 September. The next-generation unmanned system could be used to protect the UK’s future warships.

The 13m remote controlled system could be used to identify and locate threats such as mines, or to procure intelligence on hostile vessels. The kit was put through its paces at DSEI, where it protected HMS ARGYLL in a harbour force protection scenario. The system, attached to PAC24 rigid inflatable boat, navigated the river bed, detected possible threats and fed information back to HMS ARGYLL.

MAST 13 is pioneering the future of unmanned surface vehicles […] The development of unmanned technology is vital for success in modern warfare, going beyond the capability of traditional ships to attack and defend in uncertain environments […] As more advanced technology and new threats continue to evolve, collaborative technology development ensures we are constantly pushing the boundaries to give our armed forces the best capabilities possible,” Secretary Wallace observed.

The new system has been unveiled as part of the Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed (MAST) 13, a programme developed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) in collaboration with L3Harris. The purpose of MAST 13 is to further understanding of how USVs can best be used. MAST-13 will be demonstrating its capabilities alongside PAC24 – an unmanned autonomous vessel funded by NavyX, the Royal Navy’s innovation fund announced earlier this year.

USVs potentially offer significant capability for the naval fleet, increasing protection and information for individual vessels or groups by detecting threats and operating beyond line of sight.

“I am extremely excited about the technology developed for MAST-13 and its potential to enhance naval capability. This builds on our existing autonomy capabilities, including the state-of-the-art Maritime Autonomous Platform Exploitation (MAPLE) software integration system developed by Dstl and industry partners […] I look forward to seeing the further developments in sensor and countermeasure technologies that this could enable, and the increased reach and lethality this will bring to our ships,” commented First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, Adm Tony Radakin, CB ADC.

This has never been more relevant thanks to a global technology trend towards systems with higher levels of autonomy. This could buy us increased ‘sea control’. Harnessing autonomy will help us increase capability at affordable cost and in a faster time frame,” explained Dstl Programme Lead for MAST, Alasdair Gilchrist.

MAST-13 promises to be a significant step on an increasingly well-travelled road towards ever higher levels of system autonomy. (Photo: Crown copyright)

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