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Autonomous vehicles using artificial intelligence (AI) are gaining more and more importance on the future battlefield. The Royal Navy is now exploring the use of artificial intelligence to task autonomous submersibles with hunting underwater mines. BAE Systems Applied Intelligence and Envitia, a British geospatial and data company which has expertise around applying AI and machine learning to complex data problems, have been selected to deliver these new capabilities. The Royal Navy’s Route Survey & Tasking Analysis (RSTA) project will adopt autonomous vehicles, open architectures and AI, with the intention to deliver an unmanned capability for routine mine countermeasure tasks in UK waters by the year 2022. It is one of the first AI projects for the Royal Navy.

At the moment the Royal Navy, just like almost any other navy worldwide, is hunting mines with a fleet of manned mine-hunter ships using sonar to survey seabeds and looking for anomalies. New AI-enabled submersibles could be much quicker and more precise when scanning an object, identifying a threat, and deciding what to do with it. Under the Mine Countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) programme, RSTA will intelligently task a fleet of autonomous vehicles, utilising machine learning to analyse mission conditions and improve the success rate of all its missions over time. “AI is set to play a key role in the future of the service,” said outgoing First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones. “As modern warfare becomes ever faster, and ever more data-driven, our greatest asset will be the ability to cut through the deluge of information to think and act decisively.”

Dorothee Frank