Royal Navy commits to underwater survey work

The Royal Navy has shown its commitment to using autonomous and robot systems for underwater survey work.

It comes as the navy, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and the National Oceanography Centre have renewed and expanded their Memorandum of Understanding for the underwater environment.

The agreement will see the organisations continue to collaborate in trials and testing of marine autonomous systems and sensors to collect data, broadening the navy’s capabilities in this area.

The first iteration of the memorandum, signed in 2014, focused on the joint development and trials of unmanned underwater vehicles. But as the Royal Navy looks to become more innovative with agile working and new methods of operating, it’s continued relationship with the world-class academic and research of the National Oceanography Centre will now look more to the North Atlantic.

The agreement will encompass a wider scope for potential collaborative projects and information sharing.

Commodore Mike Knott, ACOS Maritime Capability and Force Development, and Royal Navy sponsor for the Memorandum of Understanding, said: “The Royal Navy is on an exciting journey to modernise and optimise our ability to collect and exploit hydrographic and oceanographic information. 

“This enduring memorandum allows the Royal Navy to work closely with the National Oceanography Centre and Defence Science and Technology Laboratories to collaborate in developing our world leading expertise in marine science.

“Consequently, it will ensure that the operational decisions we make will be based on the most up to date environmental data.”


The Royal Navy is on an exciting journey to modernise and optimise our ability to collect and exploit hydrographic and oceanographic information.

Commodore Mike Knott

He added: “The advantage of being able to collectively share knowledge and experience informs our trials and experimentation, such as a recent successful three-month Oceanographic Glider deployment off the coast of Scotland, as we seek to innovate and expand our use of artificial intelligence and autonomous systems.”

Potential projects coming up include further testing of gliders and autonomous surface and underwater vehicles as well as the development of robotics systems and their possible military use.

As the UK’s centre of excellence for oceanographic sciences, the core remit of the National Oceanography Centre is to provide national capability and leadership for big ocean science, making its work relevant for both the Royal Navy and DSTL.

The centre’s Associate Director for National Marine Facilities, Leigh Storey, said: “There continues to be multiple opportunities for the National Oceanography Centre to work closely with the Royal Navy and DSTL from scientific interpretation of oceanographic data to joint development of autonomous systems, from the coast to the deep ocean.

“I very much hope this memorandum acts as a launch pad for even closer collaboration and focused alignment of future development opportunities.”

DSTL’s role in the partnership is to help shape the Royal Navy’s direction of travel in terms of future capability, through their own research, but also through enabling a greater level of engagement with other researchers and academics in the field.

Its Senior Principal Scientist (ocean environment), Timothy Clarke, said: “As the science providers for UK national security, DSTL provides impartial and evidence-driven analysis to customers. By harnessing the latest technologies and expertise within the National Capability we will enhance the Royal Navy’s understanding of the applications of autonomous underwater vehicles for operational advantage.”