Unmanned Warrior - Looking round Davy Jones’ locker

Yesterday the focus of Unmanned Warrior swung to the Kyle of Lockalsh, on the mainland near the Isle of Skye bridge.

The Qinetiq base here is BUTEC, the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre, set in a more intimate corner of the Scottish seascape than the wide open vistas of Benbecula. 

Here there is a small complex of jetties and adjacent boat sheds with a supporting operations room and administration hub for the almost continuous series of underwater trials conducted here on behalf of the MoD.

For Unmanned Warrior this is the locale for two, arguably three - if you include Command and Control, of the five themes of investigation that the teams are demonstrating: Mine Hunting and Hydrographic surveys. 

A lot of this is due to the commonality of the systems used, such as the Remus 100 and Remus 600 which scour the sea bed with their refined sonar beams and reproduce what is down there.

If you are looking for mines then the mines will show up on the scan, if you are trying to draw a chart then the sonar will give you the outline of contours and underwater obstacles ready to be digitised for the navigator.  

There was a flurry of activity on the dockside as the teams in bright red immersion suits and high visibility life-jackets fussed around their support craft and rigid inflatable boats, fetching and carrying long torpedo shaped objects from the preparation rooms down onto the pontoons to ready their underwater robots for action. 

And a mixture of accents told of US and Canadian teams bringing their systems into play too.

The majority of these are truly autonomous in that they are pre-programmed with a subsurface mission, launched and then left to get on with it.

They will track up and down recording seabed features and return to the surface when finished, operating perhaps for up to 8 hours at a stretch if needed  An additional layer of autonomy is added if the the pick up craft is also unmanned, as some of them are.

Buzzing overhead was the Blue Bear BLACKSTART fixed wing UAV acting as a communications link to mission control in the Command and Control cabin, the sea areas being inspected being some way away.

This was in one of the three MAPLE integration centres, actually an ISO container full of computers, screens and anxious people, where the robots are told what to do.

Later came a cheer. A record!

The BAe Systems and SeeByte mission commanders had brought nine autonomous systems on line, responding to each other, flying, swimming and diving together, but hard at different tasks, looking for different things.  

A choreographed ballet under the baton of the maestro.