The ability to reduce time and cost during these maintenance periods as well as allowing ships to diagnose their own defects at sea will enhance the operational capability and flexibility of the Navy deployed worldwide.

Cdr Marcus Hember

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas has called on the RN and industry to innovate above, on and below the waves when it comes to ‘maritime autonomous systems’ – a call answered by the MOD’s Maritime Combat Systems In-Service Management Team based at Abbey Wood near Bristol.

Although the craft tested above and around HMS Diamond weighs just 2.5kg, it can withstand winds of up to 30kts – and found itself buffeted by gusts approaching that speed while being tested.

The camera takes either hi-resolution stills or video footage of the area inspected and the imagery can be in the hands of engineers within minutes of landing.

“It’s a long way up the mast of a Type 45 and managing the material state of the cutting edge systems at the top is a challenging but essential task.” explained Lt Steve Lovatt, who used to serve in Diamond’s sister HMS Duncan and initiated the trial.

“This is normal business in the oil and gas industries when they’re inspecting rig. It’s quick, cheap, you could do it wherever the ship is, the results are with you in minutes.

“But there’s huge long-term potential, well beyond inspecting masts or even the hull, which can be explored as the technology matures.”

Diamond’s Commanding Officer, Cdr Marcus Hember, said his team were delighted with the trial.

“The ability to reduce time and cost during these maintenance periods as well as allowing ships to diagnose their own defects at sea will enhance the operational capability and flexibility of the Navy deployed worldwide,” he said.

There will be more trials involving this and other unmanned technologies over the next 16 months in the run up to a Joint Warrior exercise in Scotland in the autumn of 2016 when there will be a major demonstration of automated naval systems

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