Royal Navy looks to future following successful technology trials in 2020

From drones resupplying Royal Marines on the battlefield to crewless boats integrating with Royal Navy ships on deployment, 2020 was a year of firsts for technology in the senior service.

Numerous trials took place throughout the year in the Arctic Circle, the Mediterranean and around the UK.

The Royal Navy continued to forge ahead – despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic – with bringing the latest technology to the front line and showed its commitment to getting cutting-edge equipment into the hands of sailors and marines.

2020 was about looking forward to the future and how the service will adapt - something evident during the autumn’s Littoral Response Group (Experimentation) deployment.

In the three months UK flagship HMS Albion, destroyer HMS Dragon, RFA Lyme Bay, 40, 42 and 47 Commando were in the Mediterranean, some 40 different experiments and assessments were carried out, spread across nine real-time exercises.

Drones feeding back live video footage, quad-copters delivering supplies and all-terrain vehicles were used in the series of trials in Cyprus.

They were latest in the Autonomous Advance Force (AAF) exercises the Royal Navy launched in 2019.

Dedicated to integrating autonomous and crewless tech into warships and commando units, the exercises have been important milestones to making this a reality.

They started in Norway in March 2020 when the Mast13 crewless boat, now known as Madfox, successfully sailed into HMS Albion while being controlled by operators deep in the ship. It was the first time the boat’s artificial intelligence system to control all of this tech was integrated in a Royal Navy warship.

Fast-forward eight months and the next phase of AAF trials saw Malloy T-150 heavy lift drones drop supplies to 40 Commando - taking off from Albion and flying inland to resupply Royal Marines on the battlefield.

The same drone also underwent extensive trials in the UK, getting it ready to head to sea on a Royal Navy warship.

2020 was a great year for the MarWorks team who have really pushed the boundaries of digitising the battlespace and supporting end-to-end information exploitation

Dave McInerney, MarWorks Programme Manager

700X Naval Air Squadron, the navy’s experts in drones and remote piloted systems, also took part in a range of trials last year.

They were also in Norway in February and March, testing their Puma craft in the frozen Arctic while back home in South Wales they took part in Exercise Merlin Storm, supporting the Commando Helicopter Force with aerial surveillance using their new Phantom Flight equipment.

The integration of new technology comes as the Royal Marines used 2020 to go back to their commando roots as raiders from the sea as they forge ahead with Future Commando Force modernisation.

As well as integrating the T-150 heavy-lift drone into their training for the first time in Cyprus, marines also used small remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS) to aid decisions made on the patrols at the Sennybridge Training Area in the Brecon Beacons.

The same kit was used in Gibraltar along with ground-based robots called ‘Throwbots’ designed to feed live data to commandos on the battlefield to inform crucial decisions in combat.

Working closely with the Royal Marines to get this equipment into place is MarWorks - the Royal Navy’s information warfare technology specialists. They were in Norway and Cyprus, ensuring tactical and communication feeds could be used to their full potential by the marines.

Norway was the first real test of Project EVE, the infrastructure that is underpinning Future Commando Force, and Cyprus further put the system through its paces.

Closer to home, work focused on testing a private 4G mobile network infrastructure at Bickleigh Barracks, the home of 42 Commando, and they also built Command Rover Tablets for delivery to navy warships in the future.

During lockdown, MarWorks led on behalf of Navy Digital, the rollout of a messaging app to 3 Commando Brigade.

Dave McInerney, MarWorks Programme Manager, said: “2020 was a great year for the MarWorks team who have really pushed the boundaries of digitising the battlespace and supporting end-to-end information exploitation.

“These are key concepts if the Royal Navy is to gain and hold the information advantage.  LRG(X) was a particular highlight, with validation of our concepts and experimentation by the warfighter on the ground.”

The pace of trials and experimentation with new kit is expected to continue this year with more technology being trialled at sea and with the Royal Marines.