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New Zealand takes delivery of new Bluebottle USV for trials

The Bluebottle USV will be operated by the RNZN for seven months. (Tim Fish)

The Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) will experiment with a new variant of the Bluebottle unmanned surface vehicle (USV) that will help inform future capabilities of uncrewed systems in the service.

The USV was delivered to RNZN's Devonport Naval Base on 8 December on HMNZS Aotearoa, which had completed a five-month international deployment with the frigate HMNZS Te Mana. In a ceremony on 13 December RNZN Maritime Component Commander Commodore Garin Golding said trials of the Bluebottle were “an important step” for the force as it was a “new experience” to operate larger USVs.

Manufactured by Ocius Technologies in Australia, the USV is named Bellona and will be operated by the RNZN for seven months by its diving and hydrographic unit – HMNZS Matataua – under a leasing arrangement with the company through to June 2024. Matataua already operates the REMUS 100 and 300 remotely operated vehicles and the T12 Mantas USV from Martac Technologies.

The commanding officer of Matataua, Commander Trevor Leslie, said using the Bluebottle was a “step forward” in terms of providing a persistent surveillance capability using solar, wave, and wind power. The 6.8 m-long vessel can operate at top speeds of 5 kt in Sea State 7, and it is fitted with a FLIR PTZ electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) camera and Simrad radar.

Once regulatory approval has been granted for its use, Bellona is expected to start operations in February 2024, initially in the Hauraki Gulf, off the east coast of Auckland, before deployment to the Southern Ocean. Ocius founder and CEO Robert Dane said this presents a new operational area for Bluebottle operations and that Bellona had been adapted for the environment.

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