BAE awarded contract to supply Royal Navy with autonomous patrol boats

BAE awarded contract to supply Royal Navy with autonomous patrol boats

The P24 Unmanned
The P24 Unmanned BAE Systems

BAE Systems has won a £3.2 million (US$4 million) contract to supply the British Royal Navy with autonomous Pacific 24 (P24) boats. The robotic P24 Unmanned, which is converted from the staple Unmanned Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB), is 7.8 m (25.6 ft) long, can do 38 knots (44 mph, 70 km/h) and has an endurance of 45 hours at patrol speed.

After several years in development, the robotic P24 Unmanned was last year was integrated with the communications system of the frigate HMS Argyll. Modifications made to the P24 by BAE, the Navy, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), and autonomous systems supplier L3Harris include an onboard robotic control system, advanced sensors, high-resolution optical and thermal camera, and a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) for audio communications and warning over distances.

P24 Unmanned is based on the standard P24 RIB
P24 Unmanned in new branding for the Royal Navy BAE Systems

With its autonomous package, it can operate on its own or under control from a warship. According to BAE, the autonomous P24’s missions could include anti-piracy operations, border control, persistent intelligence gathering, maritime security, and force protection – all without placing sailors in harm’s way.

The P24 Unmanned will continue acceptance trials this year, after which the Navy will decide on further upgrades or order a fleet of the robotic boats for service on future classes of warships.

“The autonomous P24 is not just a step-change for the Royal Navy in unmanned operations, it also ensures we remain at the forefront of technological improvement and innovation,” Lieutenant Commander Rob Manson, [the Royal Navy’s new Autonomy and Lethality Accelerator] Navy X Requirements Manager. “While initial tasks are likely to be familiar to our Royal Navy crews who already operate manned P24 RIBs, the autonomous nature of this craft adds huge capability and flexibility. Additionally, this capability can be constantly improved, allowing continuous updates and capability upgrades, resulting in regular additions to the toolbox of our sailors and ships.”

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Dr. Hans C. Mumm