The Royal Navy launched a missile from its autonomous boat MADFOX during NATO’s biggest autonomous war games.
The navy’s innovation experts NavyX deployed to Portugal with uncrewed technology for the annual experimentation exercise. The two-week exercise aimed to test the integration of NATO systems and explore existing and new military roles for autonomy.
At the centre of the Royal Navy’s contribution was the MADFOX crewless boat which has been undergoing trials all year. During it’s first overseas deployment, the boat was tasked with its biggest test to date – being part of a surveillance training operation ending in a missile launch.
For the trial, a Puma drone launched by USNS Carson City relayed information to a land-based control centre of a possible target – in this case a simulated target of a Spanish crewless boat. Once received, that information was sent to the Royal Navy’s MADFOX vessel and the missile launched.
Commander Antony Crabb, NavyX Experimentation Team Leader, said: “The system launch from MADFOX was a UK first, demonstrating the potential of uncrewed surface vessels for lethal and other payloads; crucially, the whole serial was commanded, enabled and facilitated using information provided by uncrewed systems.
“It is a significant step for UK/US interoperability and interchangeability.”
Later in the exercise, Royal Navy technology supported night-time amphibious operations. It saw MADFOX observe a ‘target’, undetected, and provide live imagery using its onboard cameras.
As Portuguese Marines stormed ashore, aerial drones provided further surveillance, sending imagery to ruggedised tablets within the assault forces. Personnel in the Maritime Operations Centre were able to make an assessment of the target defences and enemy strength before ordering an attack.
The exercise was designed to show how dismounted Command and Control systems could extend situational awareness provided by uncrewed systems to small distributed teams. The tablets also enabled the Marines to request missions from the uncrewed systems connected to the UK MAPLE mission planning system.
Lieutenant Maia of the Corpo de Fuzileiros said: “The situational awareness provided by MADFOX and the aerial drones was brilliant and the new technology enabled very close coordination between the headquarters and my Marines.
“Even before leaving the ship we had good information, and this was updated as we travelled to the target. It really showed how NATO drones are becoming more and more interoperable.”
During the fortnight of trials, MAPLE provided the means to pass missions to multiple NATO uncrewed equipment in the air, on the surface and underwater.
Through MAPLE, the UK was able to integrate with more than twenty different assets including those from the US, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch navies.
Commander Crabb added: “The facilities and support provided by the Portuguese Navy, including the excellent facilities at their Navy Centre for Operational Experimentation have been first class and are a real asset to the NATO community.”
More than 900 personnel, 70 autonomous uncrewed systems and 11 navy vessels took part in REPMUS.
The system launch from MADFO