Autonomous ambition: NavyX plots a course to machine-speed warfare

by Richard Scott

In early April, the UK Royal Navy (RN) lifted the veil on a bold initiative intended to ‘mainstream’ the introduction of autonomous technologies into the front-line fleet. Given the name NavyX, this joint military/industry technology accelerator has been funded through the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) Transformation Fund to engineer a generational leap in the ways and means by which the RN procures, integrates, proves, and scales autonomous systems.

BAE System’s P950 rigid inflatable boat (RIB) technology demonstrator is a private-venture development intended to demonstrate and de-risk an autonomous sea boat based on the company’s Pacific 24 RIB.
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BAE System’s P950 rigid inflatable boat (RIB) technology demonstrator is a private-venture development intended to demonstrate and de-risk an autonomous sea boat based on the company’s Pacific 24 RIB. (Richard Scott/NAVYPIX)

This desire to think and act differently has been driven by multiple factors. First, there is a changing and fast-evolving threat across multiple dimensions: the hybrid warfare ‘grey zone’ in which adversaries exploit economic, political, cyber, media, and social environments to seek advantage; the development of new weapon technologies, ranging from low-cost, improvised unmanned explosive devices and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) ‘swarms’ to hypersonic missiles and directed-energy weapons; and the re-emergence of peer and near-peer adversaries, which demands the ability to readily scale up to high-end warfare.

Secondly, the RN finds itself in a world of ever-faster technology cycles where data, digitisation, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) are increasingly pervasive. This presents a challenge to an organisation and supporting infrastructure that is largely founded on the expectation that major capital assets would be procured to serve for up to three decades or more.

Lastly, there is an acceptance that scarce resources and competing demands for investment elsewhere in the MoD’s budget will inevitably constrain major platform acquisitions. Although the RN aspires to grow hull numbers in the longer term, there is an understanding that there will never be sufficient numbers of destroyers, frigates, and offshore patrol vessels to deliver the required mass.

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This article won 'Best un-manned systems' submission at the 2020 Defence Media Awards.

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In early April, the UK Royal Navy (RN) lifted the veil on a bold initiative intended to ‘mainstream’...

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08 October 2020

Janes analysts win at the 2020 Defence Media Awards: congratulations Jeremy Binnie and Richard Scott
Janes analysts win at the 2020 Defence Media Awards: congratulations Jeremy Binnie and Richard Scott
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