The first unmanned boat for general duties with the Royal Navy has been by NavyX and BAE Systems, the Royal Navy announced on 24th June.
More than £3m is being invested in the crewless Pacific 24 boat – and other autonomous small craft technology.
The boats could operate individually – or in groups – racing over the ocean at speeds of up to 38 knots (nearly 44mph).
The Pacific 24 has been the backbone of sea boat operations from Royal Navy warships for more than a quarter of a century, with the latest variant, the Mark 4, introduced four years ago.
The boats are fundamental to life-saving search-and-rescue duties, serve as the springboard for commandos and sailors on board-and-search operations looking for drugs in the Caribbean and Middle East, and ferry personnel and stores between ships or from ship to shore.
But there may be occasions when a crewless vessel might perform the same, similar, or even entirely new missions.
Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin said: “Commencing the trials of the crewless Pacific 24 boat is an important stepping stone in the Royal Navy’s development of its autonomous capability to ensure our fleet remains at the forefront of military innovation and technology, ready to meet the evolving threats of modern warfare.”
The crewless Pacific 24 is sponsored by NavyX – the specialist wing of the Royal Navy dedicated to rapidly developing, testing and trialling cutting-edge and new technologies for use on the front line.
The team has worked in partnership with BAE Systems, who build the Pacific 24 in Portsmouth, to commission the new boat.
A prototype, controlled from frigate HMS Argyll, debuted at the DSEI defence/technology showcase in London last September, since when BAE and the Navy have pressed ahead with a working model fit for the front line.