October 3, 2016 - Major defence firms and small businesses alike are heading north to take part in Unmanned Warrior 2016 where they will show off their ideas for the future of autonomous systems at sea. Lieutenant Commander Clive Langmead writes...
It is like getting to the night of the long awaited ball.
At last after weeks and months, in fact two years of intensive planning, hundreds of meetings, thousands of telephone calls and tens of thousands of emails the day has arrived. Or rather the month.
October 2016 has been the target, the aiming point, for so long it is hard to believe it is here at last and Unmanned Warrior 2016, conceived by (then) First Sea Lord Admiral Zambellas in 2014, is under way, heading north."
Major international companies, proud names in British Defence, and smaller bespoke contractors, academic institutions and research scientists are hitching up their trailers, packing their bags into their 4 x 4s and heading to the West Coast of Scotland or the Western Isles.
That is except those who are heading East across the Atlantic from the USA and Canada (150 of them) and those who are starting in West Wales - where this week there will be some preliminary trials of the British Army’s UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Watchkeeper.
Procured by MoD, Watchkeeper will not be getting its sea legs so much as ranging out over the ocean in watchful support of the ships heading north for Joint Warrior 2016 to which Unmanned Warrior is operationally linked.
It has a powerful ISTAR reconnaissance capability but is too fast and too large to land on the flight deck of a frigate.
That usually needs rotary wings – even for a robot helicopter.
These too are being developed as Autonomous Systems and tested on Unmanned Warrior next week in Benbecula, Western Isles.
Also heading through the Irish Sea under Watchkeeper’s eye will be the DSTL (Defence Scientific and Technology Laboratory) civilian chartered vessel Northern River which will host at sea a dozen unmanned systems through the three weeks of autonomous demonstrations.
In Scotland QinetiQ, as part of its long term partnership agreement with MoD have prepared the flying and underwater ranges which it runs in Benbecula, Stornoway, Applecross and the Kyle of Lochalsh, including erecting hangars and laying a dummy mine field for the robots to try and find.
Several RN Mine Hunters will also be trying to do the same. So this will be a very direct test of new systems against old. The Mine Hunters already use remotely piloted submarines in their work, but Unmanned Warrior is hoping to show things can be taken a stage further.
The RN extended the invitation and 40 demonstrators have agreed to come and show off their ideas of the future of autonomy at sea. The guest list of distinguished visitors is large and the systems are some of the best, if not the best, in the world.
All we need now is the weather.