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New Royal Navy minehunting mother ship conducts landmark trials with USVs

The RN's new minehunting mother ship, RFA Stirling Castle , conducts its first series of trials with the service's autonomous MCM USVs RNMB Hydra , Hazard , and Apollo. (Crown Copyright)

The UK Royal Navy's (RN's) new minehunting mother ship has conducted its first trials with autonomous unmanned surface vessels (USVs) in what has been hailed by the service as a landmark moment for the service's future mine-countermeasures (MCM) operations.

During the initial loading trials, which took place in Portland, Dorset, RFA Stirling Castle was joined by Royal Navy Motor Boats (RNMBs) Apollo, Hydra, and Hazard.

The main aim of the week was to prove that autonomous vessels could be hosted onboard the recently purchased Stirling Castle and eventually controlled or remotely piloted from the ship. The trials were carried out by the RN's Maritime Autonomous Systems Trials Team, the UK Ministry of Defence's (MoD's) Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) delivery team, and industry partners.

Stirling Castle (ex-MV Island Crown) was purchased second-hand by the UK MoD from Island Offshore Management in late 2022 to serve as a host platform for offboard autonomous MCM payloads being procured under Block 1 of the RN's Mine Hunting Capability (MHC) programme.

The ship arrived at His Majesty's Naval Base (HMNB), Devonport, from Norway in late January 2023 to undergo its military conversion, which it completed in early May. Since then, it has embarked on sea trials with its new crew of Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) personnel, with a view to achieving an initial operating capability by August.

Once in service, Stirling Castle

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