Austal to develop patrol boat autonomy capability


Perth shipbuilder Austal is to commence planning, modification, and test and evaluation of autonomous and remotely operated systems, using as a test bed a de-commissioned Royal Australian Navy patrol boat.

Austal has taken possession of former Armidale-class Patrol Boat (ACPB), the former HMAS Maitland, from the Commonwealth for its Patrol Boat Autonomy Trial (PBAT) in collaboration with Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre and the Royal Australian Navy Warfare Innovation Navy (WIN) Branch.

The trial will establish robotic, automated and autonomous elements on the vessel, providing a proof-of-concept demonstrator, for optionally crewed or autonomous operations.

It will also explore the legal, regulatory pathways and requirements of operating an autonomous vessel at sea.

Austal designed and built the Armidale-class Patrol Boat (ACPB), and will work with subcontractor L3Harris utilising their experience in autonomous vessel technology.

The vessel at arrived at Austal’s Henderson yard Western Australia and been re-named ‘Sentinel’ (pictured).

Now in the trial’s ‘modification phase’, this includes the fitting of a variety of monitoring and control systems and technologies that enables autonomous and remote operations.

From July 2023 the vessel is expected to be registered under Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) jurisdiction as a domestic commercial vessel to enable sea trials to commence October 2023.

The PBAT project aims to:

    • Significantly progress the concept of remote operations and the autonomous certification approach
    • Increase the understanding of fuel management, communication, and navigation systems to be made autonomous
    • Investigate and understand the sustained operation of shipboard mechanical systems without crew intervention, including systems of redundancy and reliability to support operations at sea for extended periods
      Provide input to long-term risk reduction for future naval projects, considering remote or autonomous vessels
    • Transfer lessons learned on the application of remote or autonomous systems to the Royal Australian Navy’s current fleet to potentially optimise crew workload.

Austal Chief Executive Officer Paddy Greg said: “Austal understands the future of Australia’s maritime capability will partly depend on how quickly our naval enterprise can better understand and integrate autonomous and remotely operated vessels.”

“Austal are pleased to be at the heart of Australia’s autonomous naval journey, working with our Industry partners, Navy and the Commonwealth, to complete the modification and trials, and share this data to improve the wider knowledge base.”

“Our expert staff are excited to be working to learn more about the challenges and opportunities in this autonomous and robotic space.

“Austal always strive to improve our designs and build ships that outsmart Australia’s adversaries, delivering capability into the hands of the Australian Defence Force to improve their ability to fight and win at sea,” Mr Gregg said.

The RAN has released the Robotics and Autonomous Systems-Artificial Intelligence (RAS-AI) 2040 Strategy outlining its vision for “a fighting and thinking Navy”.

Picture: Austal

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