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The Royal Navy meets autonomous boat Apollo

The future leaders of the Royal Navy recently came face-to-face with maritime autonomy against the magnificent backdrop of the Royal Navy’s college for officers.

Young officers from the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth were given a glimpse of the technology they could be operating with when a Thales unmanned surface vessel docked alongside.

‘Apollo’, a vessel configured for autonomous mine warfare operations, visited Dartmouth while out doing trials along the south-west coast while operating from its home facility at Turnchapel in Plymouth.

Officers and staff were briefed by John Hunnibell, Turnchapel’s Maritime Operations and Trials Manager and himself a former Royal Navy mine warfare and clearance diving officer.

Advances in Maritime Mine Countermeasures

John said: “Thales Maritime Mine Countermeasures is the first of kind system of systems capable of detecting, classifying and disposing of mines and bombs at sea, without ever having a human operator anywhere within a naval minefield. 

“The vessel can be programmed to conduct these search and dispose missions completely autonomously, whilst avoiding navigational obstacles such as other vessels. 

“Apollo had been undergoing trials to integrate the towed mine-hunting sonar payload in vicinity of Dartmouth; this is the element of the system which ‘detects’ the mines at sea and is what was displayed to the cadets.”

“As part of their training, the cadets are taught all about existing naval disciplines and capabilities, including mine countermeasures; they will have been made aware of the development of maritime autonomy, and the current autonomy projects being worked through within defence.


Coming face to face with the future

“This visit provided the opportunity to display a turnkey autonomy platform to the cadets which is being trialled and tested right now on the doorstep of their college – emphasising to them the degree of maritime autonomy development and very real prospect
 of them operating this equipment in the course of their careers.”

Thales's UK Maritime Autonomy Centre at Turnchapel

Committed to investing in digitally transformative maritime technologies, Thales opened its UK Maritime Autonomy Centre at Turnchapel in October last year with a mandate to accelerate the assessment, development and certification of unmanned systems, in essence  getting the best equipment into the hands of our armed forces faster

The centre is building on Thales’s leadership in autonomous systems, a regional ecosystem of industry and academic experts and strengthening the position of UK industry in the market.

Speaking of the visit’s significance, Matt Hunt, autonomy lead for Thales in the UK, said: “Engaging with the leadership teams of the future, building relationships and showing them step changes in capability can only be a positive experience for both Thales
 and the Royal Navy.”

Images © Shaun Roster Photography